Homeland security extends to water and health resources

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The newly created executive level cabinet, the Department of Homeland Security, calls state and local governments to the front lines of protection and the face of public services to the American people.
   Local governments represent core competencies that must include knowledge of their communities, residents, landscapes and existing critical services for maintaining public health, safety and order.
   City Manager Charles Stahl said that despite an already tight city budget and a reduction of $275,000 in shared state sales taxes by the state, the appropriations for homeland security would be included in the upcoming 2003-2004 budget.
   "If we are able to see those revenues remain intact, obviously homeland security will be a priority in this year's budget."
   Paramount in homeland security according to local, state and federal officials are America's first line of defense in any terrorist attack -- the "first responder" community of local police, firefighters and emergency medical professionals. Properly trained and equipped first responders have the greatest potential to save lives and limit casualties after a terrorist attack.
   "We also have a responsibility to maintain and update our fire department apparatus and safety equipment that is just an element of work," said Stahl.
   "That extends to providing police response equipment such as supplying our S.W.A.T. team with bulletproof vests and other safety gear."
   The president's 2003-2004 fiscal budget proposes to spend $3.5 billion on enhancing the homeland security response capabilities of America's first responders -- a greater than 10-fold increase in Federal resources. The budget initiative expects to accomplish several objectives including:
   While the possibility of a terrorist attack in Northeast Tennessee is considered low by most homeland security experts, preparation has become the foundation of safety. Prior to the phrase "homeland security," the city's role always extended to providing public safety protection and a secure source of water and waste water for taxpayers, Stahl added.
   "We are also placing heavy emphasis on our water system making sure that issues are addressed with securing our water supply," said Stahl. The city's water supply comes from three spring sources at Big Springs off Gap Creek Road, two spring sources in Valley Forge and one in Hampton.
   A primary focus of critical infrastructure protection efforts is the nation's 170,000 public water systems. These utilities depend on reservoirs, dams, wells and aquifers, as well as treatment facilities, pumping stations, aqueducts and transmission pipelines.
   Regarding water supplies, the Homeland Security Department lists four areas of primary concern:
   * Physical damage or destruction of critical assets, including intentional release of toxic chemicals;
   * Actual or threatened contamination of the water supply;
   * Cyber attack on information management systems or other electronic systems; and
   * Interruption of services from another infrastructure.
   The city is a funding agent and partner in the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), an agency comprised of local emergency service, business, and city/county and government representatives. Its main objective is to make the community more prepared to handle emergency situations.
   "We are competing on a national level to get grants," said Stahl, "and even locally, but that does not mean we cannot get together and address needs critical to homeland security."