"Citizen participation is an important spoke in the wheel of homeland security," he said of the partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government to host a series of town-hall meetings with local and state officials, "first responders" to emergencies and citizen groups. The first meeting will occur Oct. 8 in St. Louis, followed by meetings in Miami, Rochester, N.Y., California, Kentucky, Texas and Washington state.
Calling the meetings an opportunity to gauge citizens' concerns, Ridge said he believes citizens are asking the same two questions he asks himself: "Is everything being done to protect my family?" and "How can I help?" Answering those two questions will help the department protect and engage citizens, he said.
The secretary said the initiative taps into the department's strategy of "two-way dialogue" to communicate with local and state officials. "You cannot secure the country from the [nation's] capital," he said, adding that partnerships with states, localities and private sector are necessary.
Ridge also highlighted accomplishments of the six-month-old department, saying that organizational changes since March have put "one face" at U.S. borders, improved information sharing with local and state officials, and bolstered security at airports.
Patricia McGinnis, president and CEO of the Council for Excellence in Government, said working groups with representatives from business, academia and government would meet after each town-hall meeting to make recommendations based on the public's input, with a focus on health, safety, transportation and economic viability.
McGinnis also said after the program is completed in February that the group will collect data to issue a survey and report on ideas and solutions for homeland security.