Former DHS chief criticizes local response efforts

RICHMOND, Va. -- Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Monday criticized state and local preparedness in advance of Hurricane Katrina but was careful not to address the Bush administration's role in responding to the disaster.

Officials in New Orleans had "done their fair share of tabletop" exercises to prepare for a Category 3 hurricane, Ridge said at the Commonwealth of Virginia Information Technology Symposium here. But "given the unique geography" of the Gulf Coast, they "never did planning around a Category 5" storm and did not consider the possibility of the levees breaking, he said.

"It's easy to be the quarterback after the game is over," he said. "We need leadership at all levels," but "local training must be vigorous." The lackluster response of officials had "a lot to do" with the fact that officials had not prepared for "worst-case scenarios."

The hurricane's devastation could expedite the effort to establish a national wireless system, said Ridge, who resigned from the department last year. "Ultimately, Congress and the FCC will figure it out."

Robert Gates, who directed the Central Intelligence Agency in the early 1990s, was more philosophical. It is difficult in a democracy to "generate the political will" to prepare for a disaster in advance, he said.

Officials conducting tabletop exercises must decide when it is time to transfer power from a mayor to a governor or from a governor to the federal government. If those decisions are not made, the nation will encounter the same "delays ... and lack of leadership" displayed in the aftermath of Katrina, Gates said.

There must be a way to "cascade authority if someone is not up to the job," he said. "At what point do you say, 'This is not going to hack it?'"

"There's a value to getting governors and mayors involved," said Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania. "They get their heads wrapped around [security] issues as much as Homeland Security."

When asked if greater security would mean an increased number of surveillance cameras on the street, Ridge said the ultimate decision is a "local issue" but added that he personally is "willing to tolerate a certain number" of cameras if they improve public safety.

Gates demurred, joking that during his tenure at the CIA, "we spent a lot of years putting cameras where people didn't know where they were."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.