NGA Database New Tool In Anti-Terror Fight

 
At least 25 states and hundreds of private citizens, companies and organizations are ready to render emergency services in the event of another terrorist attack or disaster on U.S. soil.

Over the last two weeks, the National Governors Association has compiled a huge database of services and equipment that could be dispatched on a moments notice to help in some other state. The NGA database could turn out to be one of the most important developments in emergency preparedness to emerge from the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on September 11.

"God forbid that something else happens. But if it does we'll be ready and even better prepared to deal with it," said Ann Beauchesne, an NGA policy analyst in charge of organizing the NGA database.

Some 25 states have pledged emergency equipment and manpower, detailing specifically what can be made available and how soon if needed. While the response from the states has been "overwhelming" thus far, Beauchesne said, the "outpouring of offers from "average citizens, businesses and organizations...has been amazing."

"It's really touching to see," she said. "We're getting offers of everything - from nurses and evidence and DNA technicians to dump trucks and backhoes. It's all coming from a mix of people - anyone who thinks they have something to contribute."

For now, the offers are being entered into a computer database called the NGA Inventory of State-based Assistance for Relief and Recovery. They will be categorized and updated on a regular basis, complete with availability information and contact numbers.

As of this week, none of the equipment or manpower offered had been dispatched to New York, Pennsylvania or Virginia, the states where the four jetliners skyjacked by terrorists crashed and killed so many people.

"We're being instructed by New York that they've got all the assistance they need right now," Beauchesne said.

In addition to the relief database, the NGA is keeping track of states that are creating new top-level offices of home security, task forces and legislative committees on terrorism. Before Sept. 11, nearly every state had emergency management personnel in charge of planning disaster responses. But at least a dozen states have taken new steps in recent days to prepare for a terrorism incident.

Following President Bush's lead in appointing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as the nation's first homeland security czar, Missouri Gov. Bob Holden became the first to appoint a state Cabinet-level post for security. Massachusetts and North Dakota have also named Cabinet-level directors of statewide security.

New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin have also elevated the issue of terrorism, adding state security responsibilities to the resumes of their public safety and emergency management directors.

The NGA, which is chaired by Michigan Gov. John Engler, will likely end up coordinating the common goals of the new security directors and task forces. The NGA's Center for Best Practices already has considerable experience in bringing together state emergency management personnel, public health specialists and anti-terrorism experts to consider how states should respond to the most unthinkable scenarios.

"We are in kind of a big state of flux right now...trying to review what we have in place and what else can be done," said John Thomasian, director of NGA's Center for Best Practices.

Thomasian said Engler plans to meet with Ridge after he assumes his new Cabinet post on Friday to see what role the organization will play in the state-federal anti-terrorism effort. One thing is certain, Thomasian said, the NGA will try to focus attention on areas "where there may be a lack of preparedness."

One area that's already on the NGA list of anti-terrorism priorities is a campaign to change outdated state public health laws. Thomasian said states must have the clear right to seize property, ration vaccine, and carry out forced vaccinations and other medical assistance if necessary. He said public health officials should be given the right as well to make life and death decisions, like who gets treated and who doesn't in the event of an epidemic or some other catastrophe brought on by an act of terrorism.

"Right now, state public health officials have the right to cancel a basketball game and not much else," Thomasian said. "There are a lot of powers that are needed that aren't there right now."
 
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