Tom Ridge Talks: A Dispatch from the Home Front

On Nov. 6, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, the new director of the Office of Homeland Security (OHS), talked with Washington Bureau Chief Lee Walczak and Correspondent Lorraine Woellert.

On getting the OHS up and running:

We have made good progress to enhance our ability to detect and prevent a potential attack and to respond if one occurs. But it is incremental, and we need to work daily to strengthen both capacities.

On mobilizing the business world:

I will look to the resourcefulness of business to help solve some of the problems we confront. The best way to employ the private sector is to think like the private sector does. They move quickly, in a very innovative, decentralized economy. Let me give you an example. Energy companies are potentially one of our greatest vulnerabilities. [People] in that sector recognize that, have some ideas on security, and are looking for a partnership with the federal government.

On the risk that a decentralized crisis response will leave gaps in security:

There are already companies that have been thinking about problems and solutions. My goal is to tap into those resources as quickly as possible. Our goal is to sit down with [key industries], identify vulnerabilities, [and] come up with an industry-led self-policing effort.... This is going to require all of us to challenge each other with ideas, to constantly look for best practices, and to rethink everything we do in terms of security.

On the adequacy of allowing states to devise their own security plans:

States historically dealt with emergency preparedness independently. [Now] there's a growing consensus [among governors] to assist the federal government. We're looking at communications, training, staffing. States are going to be partners. But there is also agreement among governors that there has to be a standard of preparedness [for] all 50 states.

On complaints that warnings of possible terrorist strikes have increased anxiety without providing useful guidance:

We issued two general alerts. The question is how we as a country deal with this heightened security, and we're all struggling to find an answer. We're not there yet. The only thing we know is that there are people committed to undermining our way of life, who turned a commercial airplane into a missile, who turned a simple envelope into a weapon of terror. If we can take this sense of concern and channel it into being watchful and alertwe will get through this. But emotionally and psychologically, this nation hasn't experienced this kind of uncertainty--ever.

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