Chertoff discusses emergency planning

Michael Chertoff, former secretary of Homeland Security and co-author of the USA Patriot Act, encouraged nations to work together to combat terrorism and natural disasters during a conference hosted by the University Tuesday.

Chertoff was the keynote speaker at the third annual Homeland Security Workshop where this year’s topic was emergency preparedness and crisis management. Chertoff, who has faced harsh criticism for the Department of Homeland Security’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and the Patriot’s Act impact on civil liberties, only briefly mentioned these topics during his speech.

The event was sponsored by Finmeccanica, an Italian conglomerate in the aerospace, defense and security industries, and was held in the Marvin Center.

“When we formed the Homeland Security Department, one of the biggest things was learning to plan,” Chertoff said, adding that during Hurricane Katrina, “planning wasn’t up to speed yet.”

Chertoff emphasized that today’s disasters, both natural and man-made, are global and require a joint response from all nations and levels of government.

“I would not reorganize government,” Chertoff said. “It is overdone. We have a structure. We could have a better structure but everyone has ups and downs. The answer is networking.”

He used the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which were planned and funded outside India, and swine flu as examples of how crises cross borders.

Chertoff said “emergency comes in all flavors and all different shapes and sizes,” and said planning for these emergencies requires a lot of time in order to prepare for crisis situations.

“There is a need for planning,” Chertoff said. “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. We must be able to adapt.”

Because crises usually take place across multiple jurisdictions, planning must be a collaborative effort, he said.

“There is a need for integration of all the elements,” Chertoff said. “Very few agencies will have a broad capability to cover everything. You see that as you build your plans and your capability. You need to act decisively to deal with a crisis. It is a physiological issue, not a technical issue.”

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