U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano travelled to the New York City’s Emergency Operations Center in downtown Brooklyn yesterdayÂ to make a major speech to local first responders on the eve of the ninth anniversary of 9/11. I was asked by the City’s Office of Emergency Management to represent the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program at the event.
And, Napolitano’s message was aimed equally at the general public as the uniformed services:
“So tomorrow is also a reminder that each of us bears a unique sense of responsibility to one another, to our communities, to our states, and to our nation. Whether you are a police officer on the street, a firefighter, a doctor, a businessman, a student, or a stay-at-home parent, you â€“ we â€“ are the very backbone of our nationâ€™s homeland security. We are all interconnected in the effort to protect this country…
Therefore, over the past year and a half, I have made one of my very top priorities for DHS to get information, to get tools, and to get resources out of Washington, DC, and into the hands of the men and women serving on the front lines. That includes you â€“ the first responders â€“ but it also includes citizens, community groups, and our partners in the private sector.”
“I said in that speech last year that we had an ‘urgent need to refocus our counter-terror approach to make it a shared endeavor to make it more layered, networked, and resilient â€“ to make it smarter and more adaptive.’ I said we needed to enlist a broader societal response to the evolving threats weâ€™re facing â€“ and that requires strengthening partnerships, and focusing on values like resilience and shared responsibility. And I said that individuals, families, communities, and businesses all have important roles to play.
This represents a shift for our country. In a sense, this harkens back to when we drew on the tradition of civil defense and preparedness that predated todayâ€™s concerns. In another way, however, it makes all of us responsible for being informed about the kinds of Twenty-First Century threats we face today.
Building a culture of preparedness and resilience across the country is a significant endeavor. And it is, indeed, still a work in progress. But I’m here today â€“ a year later â€“ to say that we have made progress. And we need to be making progress because the myriad threats against our nation have not gone away.Â Indeed, they have grown even more dynamic. So, I want to share that progress with you, and let you know what I see coming down the road for us.”
Napolitano acknowledges that this topic “may not generate big headlines” [except of course on this blog].Â Saying “homeland security begins with hometown security,”Â Napolitano touted the role of the public and spoke about expanding the “See Something, Say Something” program nationally:
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano inscribes â€˜God Bless Americaâ€™ and signs her name at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Weâ€™re taking other steps to support individuals and families, citizens and communities. Recall that it was a New York street vendor who tipped off a policeman about the bombing attempt in Times Square. It was a group of passengers on Flight 253 who intervened to stop the bombing attempt on Christmas Day.Â The goal of the â€œIf You See Something, Say Somethingâ€ campaign is making people more aware, but also providing them with the tools they need to take action if they see something suspicious.
Through this campaign, weâ€™re raising awareness of potential terrorist tactics, and emphasizing the importance of reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement. But thatâ€™s just one side of the equation. We also see it as a partnership between citizens and local police.
To that end, weâ€™re also expanding the National Suspicious Activity Reporting, or SAR, initiative into a greater resource for front-line security personnel. The National SAR initiative creates a standard process for law enforcement in over two dozen states and cities to identify and report suspicious activity so it can be shared nationally to identify broader trends. Weâ€™re working with our partners in the Department of Justice, which runs SAR, and widening it to include fusion centers, transit police, and other groups….”
Napolitano also emphasized the concept of “resilience” which will increasingly be a central tenet of the Administration:
“Weâ€™ve been looking at a number of ways to create incentives to foster this kind of resilience. In the coming days, weâ€™ll be releasing details of a new national award that will recognize people, organizations, or communities who have exhibited an extraordinary commitment to resilience.Â We have produced what we call a Community Resilience Registry where communities can input information on roughly a hundred different data points to develop a ‘resilience profile’ of their community.
With your help, DHS will keep supporting those of you on the front lines, and keep strengthening the networks that will keep us secure. Weâ€™ll all build, and be part, of a bigger, smarter, stronger team. And thatâ€™s how we’ll keep America safe.
In concluding, Napolitano returned to a point that she has been making throughout her tenure that she cannot guarantee that the U.S. will not be attacked again, but we are resilient enough to bounce back:
America is a strong nation. And we are a resilient nation. But that doesn’t mean that we donâ€™t have to examine and recommit to the sources of that strength and resilience from time to time.Â As Iâ€™ve said before, we canâ€™t guarantee there wonâ€™t be another successful terrorist attack. The threats we face are evolving, and enemies like al Qaeda and its affiliates are determined. We canâ€™t seal our country under a glass dome.
But if that attack comes, our enemies will still not have succeeded, because our nation is too strong, and too resilient, to ever cower before a small group of violent extremists. We have always rebounded from hardships and challenges, and come together as a people to overcome disasters, attacks, and war. And we will do so again.
Today, on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in our nationâ€™s history, I can pledge to you this: we will do everything in our power to prevent attacks, and to prepare ourselves. At DHS, a fundamental part of that obligation is to get information, tools, and resources into the hands of people who can use them to help all of us be more secure.
To field that bigger team â€“ to enlist individuals, local communities, businesses, law enforcement and first responders in a network of shared responsibility â€“ to enlist the nation in its own collective security. Itâ€™s the American way: because we all face the threats of todayâ€™s world, as well as the opportunities it brings, weâ€™re all in this together.”