- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

Security alerts have come a long way since Paul Revere's ride. Or have they? When Homeland Security Director "Rainbow Tom" Ridge explained his new color coding system, he only added to the considerable confusion surrounding the on-again, off-again alerts we have been advised of since last September. And he raised more questions than he answered.
Many times since last September, President Bush has told us that homeland security is a huge concern, and appointing Mr. Ridge showed his commitment. But for all the good intentions, very little progress is evident. It's time to ask a few questions about how things are being done. Take airport security. When Congress acted last fall, it promised improved baggage and passenger screening, at the price of federalizing the workforce. We were assured that federalization was needed to ensure that better-trained people were on the job. Now that the workforce is being converted to the federal dollar, the same people are doing the same work, but are getting paid more. Are these people being properly trained, and to what standards? Mr. Ridge should find out, and tell us what's going on. The same concerns apply to port security. Millions of tons of cargo come into the United States every year, and much of it is containerized sealed in the huge boxes that go directly from a ship onto an 18-wheeler and driven off to Anywhere, USA. What are the Coast Guard and the Customs Service really doing to deal with this enormous hole in our security blanket?
The saddest fact is that Ridge's Rainbow won't improve the lot of the police, fire and emergency service personnel who are supposed to respond to any terrorist attack. Right now, those people are being given exactly zero information about what threats they have to deal with. Alerts are fine, but they're meaningless without information explaining what is going on. Mr. Ridge should forget about colors and concentrate on information.
The foundation for any homeland security plan must be a secure, reliable pipeline of information. There's no use in telling a police chief that there's a terrorist threat to his city without telling him what kind of threat. How can an emergency services director do anything in response to an alert when he doesn't know if he may have to deal with an explosion at a power plant or an anthrax attack at an office building? Mr. Ridge should be making the alerts more useful, not more colorful. The only way he can do that is to break the logjam among the FBI, CIA, FEMA and the rest of the federal alphabet soup, and get essential information distributed in time to those who will risk their lives for us. When any alert is issued, state and local authorities should get specific and timely tactical threat information. Mr. Ridge should also connect the states to the communications net, and help coordinate the federal, state and local plans and resources that will be devoted to each problem.


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