Official outlines intergovernmental efforts to bolster security

Homeland security officials are working with state and local governments to implement initiatives aimed at boosting the sharing of emergency-response resources and improving the ability of different agencies' equipment to communicate with each other, a Homeland Security Department official said on Thursday.

Michael Brown, undersecretary for the department's emergency preparedness and response directorate, told the House Homeland Security Committee that his agency is moving forward with programs that are aimed at boosting domestic preparedness in case of natural disasters or terrorist attacks similar to those of Sept. 11, 2001.

The directorate plans to distribute more than $145 million this year in conjunction with the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Service, Brown said in a prepared statement.

State and local governments "will compete for demonstration projects that will explore uses of equipment and technologies to increase interoperability among the fire, law enforcement and emergency-medical-services communities," he said. Those projects will serve as models for technical solutions in public safety that can be deployed throughout the country, he added.

Emergency-response and public-safety groups have been grappling with the poor interoperability of their communications and other equipment that are seen as vital to coordinating response efforts in situations like those on Sept. 11.

On another front, Brown's directorate held a nationwide exercise and training program to simulate conditions of a terrorist attack. "This exercise was a success in part because it revealed several areas for improvement the directorate is now addressing" Brown said. It "also validated that our existing processes and procedures will allow [the directorate] to respond to a disaster, including a terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction."

The agency spent $165 million in April to fund emergency-management performance grants, which are targeted toward helping state and local "first responders" to emergencies plan similar training exercises. The agency also will award nearly $74 million to help states upgrade their emergency operations centers with new technologies and physical improvements.

The directorate, furthermore, is developing new inter-local and intrastate agreements to share equipment and personnel, Brown said. Those mutual-aid requests will be integrated into a national system for "requesting, receiving and managing emergency-response resources," which he said would enhance the nation's ability to recover in an emergency.