- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

RICHMOND Virginia is safer than it was a year ago when terrorists rammed a hijacked airliner into the Pentagon, but much more needs to be done to increase security and guarantee the preservation of state government, Gov. Mark R. Warner said yesterday.

Mr. Warner spoke at a state Capitol meeting of his Secure Virginia Panel, which issued recommendations that included a proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution to expand the line of succession to the governor.

"We must ensure that state government continues to function in the event of a catastrophe," the governor said.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, will propose a constitutional amendment that will expand the line of succession to the governor, an action that he said "is long overdue." The line of succession provided by the Virginia Constitution is the lieutenant governor, attorney general and the speaker of the House of Delegates.

Mr. Warner said a constitutional amendment perhaps should add a Senate member or members of the governor's Cabinet to the line of succession.

"I don't have a preferred plan at this point," he told reporters after his speech.

Any such change would require approval of the General Assembly and the voters.

Mr. Warner said he also will develop plans for the evacuation of leaders of all three branches of government and to ensure that one person in the line of succession is physically absent from joint appearances such as the governor's annual State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly. He said he also will propose that people in the line of succession avoid traveling together.

The governor said he had signed off on a Secure Virginia Panel proposal to improve security around the state Capitol. "We will propose that everything from physical security of buildings to mail processing be integrated with a single focus agreed upon by the leadership of all three branches," Mr. Warner said.

Other recommendations call for:

• Implementing a Commonwealth Emergency Communications System for command and control.

• Developing plans to safeguard critical transportation systems.

• Increasing collaboration and sharing of safety and security information between government and the private sector.

• Working with the insurance industry to assure reasonably priced coverage for losses related to terrorism.

• Improving delivery of health care to disaster victims.

"Our call to action is to adapt to change, to proceed boldly, to unite diverse groups and agendas toward a common goal," Mr. Warner said. "Our call to action is to make the commonwealth safer and more secure and to ensure that the lives lost have not been in vain."

Among the more than 3,000 people killed in the September 11 attacks were 189 at the Pentagon in Arlington County 125 in the building and 64 on hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the building.

While Virginia "is safer and more secure" than it was a year ago, neither the state nor the nation ever will be 100 percent safe from terrorism, Mr. Warner said.

The United States is built on freedoms that make it more open and therefore more vulnerable, the governor said.

"These are the risks we bear as a democracy risks that our Founding Fathers gave us and that we accept," he said.

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