Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge addressed the government’s efforts to prevent terrorist attacks at GW Monday morning.
About 300 people filled the Jack Morton Auditorium to hear Ridge talk about the war on terror and mark the one-year anniversary of the creation of the Homeland Security Department.
“What a wonderful place to commemorate this moment, at an institution named for George W. It’s always good to plug the boss,” said Ridge, referring to the University’s namesake and President. Bush.
“In the space of one year, this new department (has) achieved a great deal to secure this country,” he added.
Following the September 11 attacks, President Bush called for the creation of a department that would facilitate communications between intelligence-gathering groups and law enforcement agencies. The department grouped together 22 government entities – including the Coast Guard, U.S. Secret Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service – that previously had little involvement with each other.
“We made great progress in this new merger of 180,000 people and 22 agencies,” Ridge said.
“Over the next year, Homeland Security will focus its efforts on raising the baseline level of preparedness across the nation,” he added.
Ridge highlighted the importance of vigilant citizenship and said every American has to prepare himself and his community for possible threats.
“Our desire is that nearly half of all Americans, in some form or combination, will be better prepared by the end of 2004,” Ridge said, “whether that’s by preparing family ready kits and emergency plans, volunteering to aid in disaster planning or engaging in CPR and training exercises to help someone in a life-threatening situation.”
While the federal government has the role of overseeing the nation’s security, the duties of protecting the United States come from the “bottom up” and require the participation of state and local governments, Ridge said.
“Washington can be expected to lead, but we cannot, nor should not, micromanage the protection of an entire nation,” he said.
“All communities need some level of assistance to increase their preparedness. Certain regions are more target-rich, so they need extra support,” he added.
The University, which hosted the ceremonial creation of the department last year, has developed a Homeland Security Policy Institute to debate and recommend solutions to terrorist attack scenarios.
“Our institute is not just a think tank; we consider it more of a ‘think-do’ tank where we bring together the thinkers and the doers,” said Frank Cilluffo, associate vice president for Homeland Security at GW and a former special assistant to President Bush.
Cilluffo said the University was a natural venue for the one-year anniversary.
“The Secretary’s office is aware of what GW is doing in the area of homeland security and of the Homeland Security Policy Institute,” Cilluffo wrote in an e-mail Monday. “He actually reached out to us and asked us to be the venue for this very important event.”
He said the institute has acted as a bridge between the Homeland Security Department and private sector safety experts.
“GW is playing a major role in homeland security on a regional and national basis,” he said.
“When we first started pulling together an inventory of (GW) in the arena of Homeland Security,” Cilluffo said, “we discovered how deep our expertise is.”