My Turn: Alaska's homeland security efforts in focus

Posted: Monday, January 05, 2004

For the past 240 years America has been blessed with protection from hostile aggression by our unique geography of having two major oceans distance us from Europe and Asia. For the most part, with the exception of Pearl Harbor and the Aleutians during World War II, America was secure from foreign attack. However, the acts of Sept. 11, 2001, clearly demonstrated an ability of our enemies to strike at the heartland of America and showed us the changing nature of international conflicts, where an enemy of our nation no longer is necessarily another nation. Protecting the United States of America from terrorist activities changed the way we must organize to secure our state.

Following the events of 9-11, Alaska focused on some unique and specific threats. We assigned a small cadre of Division of Emergency Services personnel to oversee the state's Weapons of Mass Destruction and Homeland Security activities. In addition to publishing a Three-Year Domestic Preparedness Strategy, the staff also produced a Terrorism Disaster Report, developed and disseminated a daily situation report, formed the Governor's Homeland Security Task Force, and coordinated statewide first responder grants.

In January 2003, Gov. Frank Murkowski created the Division of Homeland Security as the agency to implement a homeland security strategy for Alaska. Recognizing that there is no higher priority than ensuring that Alaskans are safe in their communities, whether from an act of terrorism or a natural disaster, the division was subsequently merged with the Division of Emergency Services to create a single Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. A new state Office of Homeland Security (OHS) was created within this division.

In 2003, OHS developed Homeland Security Threat Level Procedures specific to Alaska. The office also drafted a revision to the State Emergency Response Plan that includes a Terrorism Annex. And the OHS staff is completing a new Homeland Security Strategy for Alaska to replace the earlier version Three-Year Domestic Preparedness Strategy. This new document will be a comprehensive program to ensure the security of our state from the new asymmetric threats facing America.

Working cooperatively with the U.S. attorney in Alaska, Gov. Murkowski advocated for a joint oversight process when dealing with homeland security. This resulted in a newly created Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council of Alaska (ATACA), which combined the U.S. Attorney's Anti-Terrorism Task Force and the previous Governor's Homeland Security Task Force. This council is one of the first of its kind in the nation. It is a key example of state and federal cooperation, providing policy development recommendations regarding readiness, intelligence sharing and business community preparedness.

Programs that improve the state's ability to defend, deter, respond to, and recover from threats and acts of terrorism are expensive. This year alone, OHS secured over $41 million of federal homeland security grants to the state. The bulk of these grants are going to local jurisdictions and first responders to ensure that communities are ready should a terrorist event occur. Today, 31 jurisdictions are potential recipients of federal Homeland Security Grants.

One of the most important accomplishments of 2003 was formation of the Alaska Vulnerability Analysis Team. The team created a consolidated list of state critical infrastructure and has completed vulnerability analyses of several state and private-sector facilities. This concept proved invaluable during the recent holiday season when our threat level was raised to orange. As 2003 came to a close, the Alaska National Guard had more than 30 soldiers and airmen, along with more than 80 members of the Alaska State Defense Force, on state active duty supporting local law enforcement personnel and state troopers in protecting Alaska's critical infrastructure. These men and women of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs responded because Alaska needed them. Their service was just one part of a broad Homeland Security program that ensured Alaskans were secure throughout the holiday season.

As you can see, 2003 was a very busy year. We established a solid Homeland Security program, which has proved responsive to Alaska's needs. But security in our state cannot be done by government alone. The OHS needs the participation of the public to complete its mission. You can contribute to the security of your community, state and nation by practicing "responsible awareness." By creating a responsible level of awareness we avoid over-reaction, and at the same time allow for a proper response. I want to encourage each Alaskan to have a communication plan that allows separated family members to determine one another's location and status. Keep abreast of local and state warnings and advisories, and have enough food and supplies to survive in your home for seven days without external support. These actions will also prepare you for natural disasters that may impact Alaska. Detailed information and guidelines about communication plans and individual and family preparedness are available on the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Web site: Together, we can ensure that Alaska remains secure.

• Brig. Gen. Craig E. Campbell is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

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