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Homeland Security - Five Lessons

by Patrick McCrory

February 6,2007

In April 2007, Charlotte will host a first-of-its-kind Homeland Security conference to highlight public and private sector cooperation and preparedness. Charlotte is the natural choice for this conference given the work of Duke Power, Bank of America and Wachovia, plus others in the private sector and public sector, to maintain the critical infrastructure that is important to Charlotte – and the nation. I believe Charlotte is a well-prepared community through our public and private cooperation and because we have tried to learn the lessons from 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

I vividly remember being in the Mayor’s Office and watching on TV the second plane hit the World Trade Center. Within minutes, as I looked out my window at our beautiful skyline, thousands of people were streaming out of the Uptown office towers; my phones were ringing from the president of Duke Power calling to assure me that the nuclear power plants were secure; a US Airways executive called to assure me that their planes were accounted for; and parents wanted me to help evacuate the schools. Members of the Muslim and Jewish community were calling asking for protection and reassurance. Also, at the door of my office, were the Police Chief, Fire Chief and Transit Director wanting to recommend action steps for security and possible evacuation. This was not New York City or Washington D.C. This was Charlotte, NC.

Since that traumatic day, many additional events have occurred. From anthrax scares to Hurricane Katrina, we have learned that we must always be prepared for any man-made or natural disaster – and hopefully prevent, or reduce the impact of those disasters. The five homeland security lessons learned include:

1) Communication is the critical element in any response. During 9/11, the NYC police and fire radios did not work together; the emergency operations center was destroyed. There was not a central office of command in New Orleans during Katrina. Charlotte is working to strategically locate operation centers, install back-up communication technologies, and work with the media and private sector to facilitate communication.

2) Evacuation plans have to include getting people out, as well as in, to a city. Charlotte has good evacuation plans. Yet we did not have the mechanisms to receive the evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. The state and nation still need to address evacuation issues (incoming and outgoing) and include plans on how to help critical employees, and their families, such as Police Officers and Fire fighters, and even gas station attendants, during a crisis.

3) Funding and Duality based on need. After 9/11, the federal government distributed homeland security grants to each state based on population, not threat or need. That has since changed, yet we still witness funds being used for items that will be little used in many cities. Charlotte’s focus has been to use homeland security funds on a regional basis and only for items that have a dual purpose for both man-made and natural disasters – and used more than just once a year.

4) Trust between the public and private sectors. The private sector owns and operates more than 60% of the infrastructure. The public sector is reluctant to share information with the private sector for fear of safety breaches. The private sector is reluctant to share information with the public sector for fear information would detract customers or affect market value. Charlotte is known for its strong public-private partnerships and uses that cooperation to better support homeland security initiatives.

5) Media needs to be a part of the plan. We want the media to be part of the preparedness, prevention, and response plan. They can be extremely helpful such as on 9/11 to connect separated families or help locate people stranded on rooftops in New Orleans. The media can help address all the lessons learned by identifying gaps in communication, informing people of evacuation routes, identifying funding abuse, and building trust between the public sector and private sector.

Enhancing homeland security efforts is an ongoing challenge. Charlotte has done well, yet we can do more about homeland security by using the Department of Homeland Security conference in April to assess where we need to improve our efforts.

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