Former NTSB Chairman Hall cautions APCO members about security issues
Homeland Security Dept. may degrade response in early going
Don’t let homeland security detract from public safety
Planning and drills save lives—remember the last tragedy
One of the scheduled speakers at the APCO national conference in Nashville, Tenn., James E. Hall, surrendered much of his time to former New York Mayor Rudolph Guliani. The former mayor’s appearance was arranged after Hall had been assigned an afternoon “supersession” period in which to address an audience when the exhibit hall was closed and no other conference sessions were conducted.
Currently in private legal practice in Washington (Hall & Associates), Hall was chairman of the National Traffic Safety Board for seven years during the 1990s.
“During his term, Jim Hall investigated dozens of incidents including TWA Flight 800 and John F. Kennedy Jr.,” said Barry Furey of Knox County (Tenn.) E9-1-1, the conference chairman, in introducing Hall.
Hall delivered an abbreviated form of his remarks. The text of his intended speech appears at the end of this story.
Referring to his following Mayor Guliani’s speech, Hall said that no one in the room would envy his position.
“When I was invited to speak, of course we didn’t know we would have the mayor here to speak to you this afternoon, and in recognition of that, I’ll do two things. First, I listened closely to what he said. I’ll try to manage my fear and go forward. Second, I’m going to be brief,” Hall said.
“I want to share a story with you. Long before my job at NTSB, I used to work as a principle assistant to former Governor Ned Ray McWherter of Tennessee. He was a large man from a rural part of west Tennessee, Dresden. I managed his campaign, and we spent $3 million or $4 million.
“At one point, we went back to the town of Dresden and visited a country store that McWherter frequented. We went there to buy a few items. As McWherter walked toward the store, a pickup truck drove up and stopped. An older gentleman got out and asked, ‘Is that you, Ned?’
“McWherter was speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives at the time.
“ ‘I’ve been reading a lot about you in the newspaper, Ned,’ the man said.
“ ‘Yes, if you run for office, you have to get your name out there,’ McWherter replied.
“ ‘Been seeing a lot of you on TV, too,’ the man said.
“ ‘Yes, you have to spend millions to get your picture on TV so people know who you are,’ McWherter said.
“ ‘Well, I just want you to remember that no matter how much money and fortune you acquire, the crowd at your funeral will depend mainly on the weather,’ the man said.”
Hall told the audience that now, as they did in World War II, Americans have realized that national defense no longer is the sole responsibility of the military.
“Since the attack on the World Trade Center, we see law enforcement and first responders with increasing roles here and abroad. We must form new circles of defense beginning in our own home communities. You and your organizations are at the center. Your involvement in this conference is important,” he said.
“Congress is in process of creating the Department of Homeland Security, our national organized response to the threat. If history is a teacher, the example of the growing pains endured by the Departments of Defense and Energy tell us that it will be years before the Department of Homeland Security will up and running efficiently,” Hall said.
Hall said that the new department would be formed from 22 agencies with 170,000 employees. From his firsthand experience with the federal government’s resistance to change and inclination for turf battles, he said that he expected the creation of the new department and is development into a viable entity would take years to achieve.
“In fact, in the short term, it is likely that the new department may degrade some of the abilities at the local level to detect and intercept terrorist threats. At federal level, we do a good job of talking about working together. We need to do a better job of actually working together. Coordination is best done at the local level where we are forced to work together. This new department will have growing pains, and you are a bridge to get us through the process,” Hall said.
Hall said that the nation’s collective defense could only be provided by a public that is educated and regarded as a part of the solution and not part of the problem to be managed.
“You are part of the education process through the conference and the magazines you read that focus on providing information to meet the threats we face. I wish you Godspeed in your training and preparation because if we face a biological weapon or a weapon of mass destruction, as in all emergencies, you are the first line of communication. Your ability to think of worst-case scenarios in your communities will save lives.
“I reviewed hundreds of recommendations that we made after investigations of disasters. I saw how planning and drills save lives. You hear it at your conference and you heard it from the mayor. I repeat it because I see how quickly our public and responders forget the last tragedy,” Hall said
The former NTSB chairman said that he wanted to share one more concern with the audience.
“As we focus more attention on security issues, it is important that we don’t take attention away from, and that we adequately fund, our core mission of public safety. Safety and security intertwine. You can’t have one with out the other. Enhancing one should eventually enhance the other. But both require funding and personnel time for training. Our agencies must balance these mission to be sure our response agencies are prepared for both,” he said.
“While I was at NTSB, we conducted thorough investigations and made recommendations. Every such follow-up was a life-saving opportunity. Every time that phone rings or that first call comes, that, for you, is a life-saving opportunity. Thank you for your public service, and for coming to Tennessee and spending your money,” Hall said.
The following is the prepared text of James E. Hall’s speech.
Just like World War II, Americans realize that national defense is no longer the sole responsibility of our armed forces and intelligence agencies. Since 1993 and the first attack on the World Trade Center, we see law enforcement and first responders playing an increasing role of responsibility both here and abroad. We must now form new circles of defense that begin in our own home community. You and your organizations are at the center of that process. Your role and your involvement at this important conference are of great importance now. Let me briefly explain why.
The U.S. Congress is in the process of creating a new Department of Homeland Security. This is to be our nation’s organized response to the terrorist threat. But if history has lessons to teach, and we can look at the growing pains of the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, it will be years before this new department is up and running effectively.
Congress is proposing to integrate 22 different agencies with some 170,000 full-time employees into an effective department. Unfortunately, our federal government is known for its turf warfare and resistance to new initiatives. I believe the creation and formation of this new Homeland Security Department into a viable entity will take years to achieve.
In fact, in the short term, it is likely that the new Department of Homeland Security may serve to degrade some of the abilities we have at the local level to detect and intercept important information. The fact is that at the federal level, we do a better job of talking about working together than actually working together. My experience teaches me that coordination is done best at the local level where we are many times forced to work together. This new Department will have growing pains, and you will serve as an important bridge to assist our nation through this process.
Let me state that in my opinion, our true collective defense can only be provided by a public that is educated and has become regarded as an integral part of the solution, rather than a problem to be managed. Each and every day, you are part of that education process in your local communities.
This conference and your magazines and other publications are focused on providing information for you and the threats we all face. I wish you Godspeed speed in your training as if we are faced with an event involving a biological weapon, or other weapon of mass destruction. As in all emergencies you are the first line of communication. Your planning, your willingness to think outside the box and consider worse case scenarios can save lives. As chairman of the NTSB, I reviewed hundreds of transportation disaster recommendations. Time after time, I saw how planning and training and drills save lives.
While I recognize you may have heard this message numerous times at this conference, I repeat it because of the many times I have seen how quickly we forgot the last tragedy and fail to learn the lessons necessary to protect lives in the future.
I want to share another concern of mine with you today. The concern is that as we focus more of our attention and resources on security issues, that we don’t take attention away from and fail to adequately fund our core mission of safety. Safety and security are intertwined with one another – you can’t have one without the other – enhancing one should eventually enhance the other. However, the fact is both missions require funding and personnel, time for training, and preparation. Our government must carefully balance these missions to ensure our response agencies are prepared for both possibilities. That balance needs to be maintained in your organizations too, as we ramp up our focus on security.
As you may know, for almost seven years, I had the honor to serve as chairman of the National Transportation Board. I worked side by side with one of the greatest group of dedicated public servants anyone could ask to be associated with. Through high-profile accidents like TWA800, Egypt Air, Alaska Air, the JFK Jr. accident that captured the attention of the nation and the world and events like railroad crossing accidents, bridge collapse, hazmat accidents and truck and bus crashes, our agency worked with the knowledge, the same knowledge you work with every day, that what we were doing makes a difference, makes a contribution to our nation and, most importantly, saves lives.
My greatest satisfaction at the NTSB was in seeing safety recommendations put into practice – for example, recommendations that now require smoke detectors in all passenger aircraft cargo compartments so we won’t have another accident like the Value Jet accident in the Everglades, re-designed rudders for the world’s largest fleet of aircraft, the Boeing 737, so we wouldn’t have another US AIR 427, the requirement for permanent anchors for child safety seats and re-designed air bags that will not kill small children, elderly, and adults of small stature.
Recommendations in all areas of transportation that came as a result of months of thorough independent investigations of a transportation tragedy which put into practice saves lives, just like our energy conservation systems were developed as a result of human tragedy.
However, many times the tragedy is compounded by lessons being learned and forgotten, safety changes not made because of economic or regulatory resistance. That is why I continue as a private citizen to continue to campaign for safety recommendations that have not been put into practice as each one of them can make an important difference. Let me give you one example.
During my watch, the NTSB recommended video recorders in addition to the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder on all commercial aircraft – the so called black boxes you’ve heard about on TV. The NTSB also recommended adding a second set of black boxes so there would be recorders in both the front and rear of the plane and extending the present 30 minutes of recording time to 2 hours.
The FAA has failed to make these recommendations mandatory and the pilots’ association has actually opposed the need for cameras in the cockpit. As a result, we face a long investigation in the American Airlines accidents that took 265 lives on Nov. 12, days after the Sept. 11 tragedy. A camera would assist that investigation by documenting the actions of the flight crew on the flight controls of the airbus aircraft and let us know what role, if any, their actions contributed to the snapping of the aircraft tail.
A longer cockpit voice recorder on the Sept. 11 Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. accidents in covering conversations and sounds in the cockpit as the aircraft was taken over by the terrorists and their comments. All that information is lost because the CVR objectives of a 30-minute loop that erases itself as it records.
Also, video recorders would have given a clear picture of how the terrorists took over the Sept. 11 flights and provided important information for both the investigation and how we need to address aircraft security in the future. These recommendations made because of transportation tragedies could have made a difference on Sept. 11 and need to be implemented.
On the local level, as a result of our accident recommendations, the board has recommended that states do a better job of records and data collecting – with better linkage between law enforcement agencies and the states – monitoring driving records and possibly finding those who shouldn’t have them. We have all heard the stories about at least one of the Sept. 11 hijackers being stopped for a traffic violation – if we had better data collection and sharing capabilities listen governed agencies – perhaps he would have never made it on a plane. States and local governments need to put this recommendation into practice as well.
My reward is accepting the mission from my friends in Hamilton County to speak to your body is the opportunity to thank you for being public servants with all the sacrifice that makes, for saving lives, for making a difference.