People in law enforcement, public health officials and others need to be "visionary thinkers" about potential modern threats, especially electronic attacks, George Foresman, deputy state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said at an emergency preparedness conference sponsored by The Performance Institute.
"Cyber warfare is a threat we need to be prepared to deal with at the state and local level," he said.
Foresman is a member of the congressionally mandated Gilmore Commission, named after its chairman, former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore. The panel was set to expire in December, but Congress extended its term for another two years.
The commission has released three reports recommending ways the Bush administration could protect the nation against terrorism, including cyberterrorism. New Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has asked Foresman to serve with former Lt. Gov. John Hager, the new assistant in charge of coordinating Virginia's terrorism preparedness.
The critical infrastructure of the United States, including the computer systems and networks that connect waterways, telecommunication structures and energy grids, are the "Achilles' heel" of the United States, Foresman said.
"This is something that will not be solved at the federal level; it will not be solved in the private sector. It must be solved at the national level," with input from all levels of government and industries, Foresman said. "We need to restructure our laws and processes ... to ensure the cyber security in this country."
The Gilmore Commission has called for state, local and industry representatives to be part of any group formed by the Bush administration to study terrorism issues. Foresman said he believes that in the past 30 days, the White House Office of Homeland Security has made an increased effort to expand cooperation between it and states and localities.
He said the panel also is "heartened" by congressional moves, such as the House's creation of the Intelligence Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee and the Senate's consideration of a similar task force.
The administration already has implemented at least 25 of the 75 recommendations of the Gilmore Commission.
But Paul Byron Pattak, president of the Byron Group and former consultant to the Hart-Rudman Commission, another panel that studied national security, said officials need more than just new technologies or tools to combat possible attacks. They also need to act in concert with legal procedures. He said that during a Defense Department intelligence conference in Las Vegas last week, officials recognized six threats, physical and technology threats, that they need to address with a combination of all the resources available.
"Our people, our resources and our systems are all vulnerable. ... There are no protected areas in our society," Pattak said.