- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge yesterday rolled out his department’s National Response Plan, which allocates responsibilities among the branches and levels of government for dealing with the aftermath of a major disaster or terror attack.

The plan, Mr. Ridge told a small group of reporters before the plan was made public, was “a single document that will drive the federal response — and our coordination with our state and local partners” to any major incident.

The plan — which will be phased in over one year — replaces a plethora of federal, state and local strategies and incident command systems with a single standardized response blueprint from which all the agencies involved could train and plan.

Mr. Ridge said the more than 400-page document was like “a playbook.”

“It makes sure that the quarterback, wide receivers and offensive line all know how to get to the end zone together,” he told an audience of state and local officials later.

“If football isn’t your game,” he added, “it’s like sheet music for an orchestra or the script on a movie set.”

He said all levels of government had “active involvement” in preparing the plan, which coordinates among federal agencies, and between Washington and state and local governments.

The plan had “really been drafted by the whole country. … The fingerprints of governors, mayors and [local] emergency management professionals are all over it,” Mr. Ridge said.

The plan gives local and state first responders the responsibility to manage incidents unless and until they become overwhelmed, at which point federal agencies will become involved.

Most state and local officials seemed to welcome the plan.

“It addresses some pretty important issues,” said John Cohen, a homeland security consultant who works with state governments. “You only have to look at September 11 — compare what happened at the Pentagon … with the World Trade Center.”

At the Pentagon, first responders from several local jurisdictions — and military personnel — successfully worked together as a result of long-standing mutual aid agreements and shared protocols.

At the World Trade Center, by contrast, the September 11 commission found that mistrust and poor communication between New York’s police and fire departments probably cost hundreds of lives.

But some expressed concern that parts of the report dealing with the military’s role placed too much emphasis on maintaining the chain of command and not enough on ensuring coordination.

“The military cannot be operating off their own song sheet, with their own command and control,” said one governor’s homeland security adviser.

Releasing the National Response Plan is one of the last homeland security policy actions for Mr. Ridge, who at the end of the month will leave the department he was instrumental in creating in 2003.

He told reporters he was looking forward to being able to “step back, exhale and see what I want to do next.”

“There are many wonderful aspects to this job,” he added. “I like to go to work every day. I have been lucky to have worked with really committed, competent, exciting people. … It’s great.”

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