Local officials briefed on state's homeland security agenda

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

   Local first responders and office holders gathered Friday evening to hear the new director of Tennessee's Office of Homeland Security's agenda for protecting the state against terrorist attacks. Ret. Maj. Gen. Jerry Humble has been traveling the state speaking to emergency services personnel since he was sworn into office last month.
   Humble told the Elizabethton/Carter County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) that Tennessee has no immediate threats, even though the nation has moved to a higher level of alert.
   "We do not have a specific threat inside this state at this time. We know of no terrorist cells in the state of Tennessee, so we want to keep it that way," Humble said.
   He did recognize some security weaknesses in the state, but said Gov. Bredesen and he plan to be proactive about dealing with the issues. He said the state will begin to look at using its citizens who volunteer to fight against terrorist threats.
   "We do have some vulnerabilities. We want to make a strategic vulnerability assessment in the state of Tennessee and that is going to take all of us to do that," Humble said. "I think it is prudent because if we do reach a state of emergency you will never get enough money out of the state. You will never get enough money out of Washington, because we don't have enough money in America to secure everything."
   Humble stated that he does not agree with some of the assessments that have highlighted Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Tennessee Valley Authority Dam as threats. He does not view the big dams as concerns, because of the amount of strategic planning and explosives needed to carry off attacks on such targets.
   The general did cite transportation, and communication as more viable areas of potential concern for this area, but did not go into further detail because of security purposes.
   Although there are no known specific threats to the state, Humble was careful not to downplay the significance of the threat on the nation as a whole. He said any notion that the increase in alert resulted from political agendas is completely false, because all sectors of the national intelligence community must agree before any changes in the alert system are made.
   "This threat is real to America," Humble said. "These terrorists we already know will give their lives, and they want to get the most for their lives."
   Members of the LEPC also had the opportunity to make some of their concerns known to Humble.
   This is not Humble's first time dealing with counterterrorism. He led a distinguished, 30 year career with the United States Marine Corps where he was active in dealing with terrorist threats. He retired from military service only days before being named director of the state's homeland security department.