O'Malley stresses local need for homeland security aid

Federal cash, coordination lacking, he tells conference

July 31, 2002|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK -- Mayor Martin O'Malley took his complaint about the lack of federal money for cities for homeland security to the Democratic Leadership Council here yesterday, linking Baltimore's drug traffic to the general task of making the nation safer from foreign threats.

"Homeland security and crime should not be an either/or proposition," O'Malley said during a panel discussion at the DLC National Conversation, a three-day gathering of elected officials that concluded yesterday.

O'Malley was on a panel of local leaders with Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit and King County, Wash., Executive Ron Sims for the discussion "Homeland Begins at Home."

"Over the last 10 years in the city of Baltimore, six thousand of my fellow citizens have been killed, not by airplanes, not by necessarily the sort of bombs that terrorists make, but by foreign chemical attacks of cocaine and heroin, much of which comes through American ports [and] airports," he said, referring to the number of lives claimed by homicide and overdoses.

The mayor said that though Baltimore has had its hands full battling drugs, the federal government has not helped the city take on the new threat of terrorism.

Since Sept. 11, he said, local police, firefighters and other first responders in Baltimore have not received a dime from the federal government to shore up equipment, intelligence and information inadequacies.

On the day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, O'Malley said, he got good advice from former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, co-author of an early 2001 commission report on the terrorist threat: "He said, `Do not wait for the federal government, Mr. Mayor, to do what you need to do right now for the people of your city. The federal government will be years and years catching up to this new reality.'"

The mayor said he has acted on that advice. A spur to greater urgency, he added, was a warning from one intelligence agency: "Remember, they're here, and they're trying to kill us."

The mayor laid out a seven-point program of what every city needs to have:

Local intelligence-gathering and sharing capacity.

A federal watch list of threats.

A biosurveillance system sharing symptoms information with all hospitals in the area, as Baltimore does within the city.

Vulnerability assessment.

Emergency response plans geared to vulnerability.

Proper equipment for all first providers.

Links and redundancy in all communications systems.

On the local level, O'Malley said, most of these steps have been taken but need to be tied into a federal network.

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