- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge leaves a legacy that will make America safer for decades to come. Quietly and methodically, he has introduced new plans and programs that have garnered little publicity — but are enormously important for defeating terrorism. Now, it is our shared responsibility to take those plans forward, and build on the solid foundations that Mr. Ridge has laid.

September 11 revealed fatal gaps in the ability of local firefighters and police to work together during an attack, and to cooperate with federal and state agencies. The National Incident Management System, or NIMS, will make that cooperation far more effective. Launched by Mr. Ridge in March, NIMS creates a universal incident response system, so that different agencies and jurisdictions will share unified command structures and be spring-loaded to collaborate against terrorism.

This week, Mr. Ridge will roll out the National Response Plan, or NRP. This document is a must-read for the millions of Americans engaged in preventing, responding to or recovering from terrorist attacks.

The strength of the NRP lies in the fact that it outlines how the federal government will support state and local governments in all hazards — from floods to nuclear-terror attacks.

Mr. Ridge did the near impossible: He achieved consensus on how to divide up responsibilities and organize for 21st-century threats.

But this week’s announcement does not guarantee a seamless application of the new plan. Although the NRP is a cogently written document, bureaucrats in various government agencies are already putting their own spin on what it means. The new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security will have his hands full educating all the stakeholders and fully implementing the NRP.

And, as important a step that the NRP is to making the country better organized for homeland security, it remains to be seen if it goes far enough in dealing with the most critical mission of preventing terrorist attacks.

It’s true, the NRP goes farther than previous response plans. However, a tough job remains: working out specific operational protocols to strengthen terrorism prevention in America.

The next secretary will need to devote considerable influence to strengthen the NRP’s prevention processes as the NRP is implemented. Until then, the NRP is a major step in the right direction and will improve our chances of stopping terrorists before they strike.

The final area Mr. Ridge tried to influence is preparedness. A year ago last month the president signed Homeland Security Presidential Directive-8. In that document, the president directed the development of a national preparedness goal, and standards and metrics for measuring progress and ensuring we are spending money on the right things. That effort has proven much more difficult than expected. A year later the simplest requirement — defining a preparedness goal — is still caught up in the bureaucracy of the White House Homeland Security Council process. Developing simple standards and metrics is also proving a challenge, because measuring preparedness at the local level is not easily done.

Mr. Ridge is looking at elevating the preparedness mission on par with the other DHS directorates. Congress needs to support that initiative, which will ensure DHS is organized to build capacity at the state and local level for terrorism prevention.

Bottom line: Americans have much to thank Tom Ridge for. His successsor needs to complete the work he began.

Mike Walker is senior vice president of Plexus Scientific Corp. He served as former acting secretary of the Army and deputy director of FEMA in the Clinton administration.

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