Opening session: Ridge on managing the risk
DENVER–The war on terror is a permanent one. As such, interoperable communications cooperation among local jurisdictions is critical to managing this risk, said former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge during yesterday’s opening session at APCO.
“Those of you in local government need to understand that we need you as allies just as much as we need other countries as allies,” said Ridge.
Ridge, who retired in February, said he built the newly formed department around this philosophy: “There is no way in the world we can guarantee against a terrorist attack. We can’t eliminate the risk. We have to manage it.”
Managing the risk means integrating the nation on a local level as well as bringing together people and technologies to manage threats. For instance, two counties in California began sharing information about terrorists and replicated the system to begin sharing information about criminals. As a result, these two jurisdictions apprehended 300 people. When it comes to border security, military technology–known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), complete with ground-sensoring technology–has been adapted to monitor borders.
“People are going the extra mile to get it done,” he said. “There are a lot of innovative things the federal government had nothing to do with, but people who care did.”
Shortly after Ridge entered office, his department conducted a survey of states, asking them what their highest priority was to improve public safety when it comes to combating terrorism. The top answer was interoperable public-safety communications.
“It’s critical to combating terrorism but also to public safety and security,” said Ridge.
With that, collaboration must be the mindset, but that is often stymied by technical, organizational and political issues, he noted. He cited an example in his own home state of Pennsylvania where two jurisdictions argued over where to place a 911 call center–a notion that is absurd in the post-9/11 era. Cultural challenges often center on the established ways of communications. Some first responders, accustomed to using communications within their own departments, were never trained to collaborate with other departments.
“Wherever you are on the spectrum of emergency services, the better you collaborate, the stronger you will be,” Ridge advised.
Ridge drew applause during his keynote address when he said it was critical that radio systems be interoperable between vendors. Competition should be encouraged, he said.
“If we spend billions on technology, and we’re not well-connected, that money is not well spent,” said Ridge. “Collaboration has to be the mindset.”
Collaboration is what has made this nation better in the past, he said. Putting men on the moon allowed the U.S. to learn many things that could be applied elsewhere.
“I’m convinced that will happen [as a result of 9/11]. That’s what America does,” he said.