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For Immediate Release
Office of Homeland Security
April 12, 2002

Remarks by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to Pennsylvania First Responders

Concordville Fire Company 59
Concordville, Pennsylvania

GOVERNOR RIDGE: (in progress) -- my former colleague and friend, Curt Weldon. You know, I obviously saw him in action on the floor of the House of Representatives when I served there -- with him, for so many years, and as Governor, went down and consulted with my colleagues in Congress, because we really worked hard to take advantage of the seniority that had been built up down there.

And so I saw that his range of interests and his exposure nationally went from dealing with intelligence gathering issues and the CIA and military procurement and Russia. And there's a huge portfolio of interest in the work that he does down there. But I will tell you, without a doubt, I think he is the unquestioned leader in the entire Congress of the United States, when it comes to his persistence, his instance and his advocacy on behalf of first responders. (Applause.) So you've not only have a great Congressman, but you've got the best friend in America right down in Washington, D.C. No question about it. No question, not even close. (Applause.)

I'm glad my friend, Governor Schweiker, talked about the day we got sworn-in together back in 1995, because before we got sworn-in on that occasion, we had discussed the kind of responsibilities that he would undertake as then Lieutenant Governor. We decided there was a whole range of things that he could do, should do and would do if we got elected. We had this conversation long before the results were in.

And he was able, I believe, to step seamlessly in, as a worthy successor, because he was so involved, in so many different areas, during the seven years that we worked together. But one of the areas that we discussed, early on, was the role of Pennsylvania's Emergency Management Agency, and the need to find someone with great energy, creativity, one who understood the day to day operation of that. And historically, the lieutenant governor was assigned that task.

I think I can honestly say that in the history of this state, no lieutenant governor brought the commitment and the energy and the passion to making sure that not only the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency worked, but it worked together with local first responders, unlike its ever worked before.

So in addition to all the wonderful things he did as lieutenant governor, and great creativity and energy and passion he's brought to his service as your governor now, way back when, seven plus years ago, he said, "we're going to beef up our emergency management capacity. We're going to work with our first responders. It will be a different, a better and a safer Pennsylvania." And because of his work, then and now, Pennsylvania is a more secure and safer place. So I thank you, Mark. (Applause.)

Let me -- every opportunity that I have to spend some time with first responders, I seize it, for a lot of reasons. One, different people are called to public service in a lot of different ways. And some of us have the opportunity to get elected, and probably have a few more lights shining on what they do.

And some work in government. We've got 80,000 great Pennsylvanians who are part of Pennsylvania's government that Governor Schweiker oversees. And Curt Weldon sees them in the federal government. They work, they're public employees.

But there are other public servants in our community whose presence and whose commitment and sacrifice really wasn't celebrated very much before 9/11. And as a Pennsylvanian wrote me, the acts of 9/11 showed us who are hometown, next door, every day, humble heros are.

And they're not the sports figures, they're not celebrities, they're not the hollywood types. I might say not necessarily even those who hold elected positions. No, they're not the heros. They're not the humble heros of our community. The men and women who go to work every single day, who are paramedics and the EMT and the police and the firemen, those are really the ones that we celebrate since 9/11. Unfortunately, it took a tragedy to remind us who those heros are.

And so I say to the men and women in uniform today, if your spouses are here or your kids are here, I think Curt Weldon and Governor Schweiker and I appreciate the fact, when you put on that uniform, to say I'm going to serve my community, the state police here, when you put on that uniform, you've got the firefighters, you've got the local police, you've got the paramedics, whatever you've got, your family puts the uniform on. Not just you, your whole family wears a public service uniform. Because it's in the middle of the night, it's the middle of the birthday celebration, it's the middle of the holiday, it's the middle of your vacation, and the community calls and needs you to respond, and bingo you're out the door. If you get a chance to say goodbye to the kids or kiss your spouse, you do.

But that doesn't keep you, because when you get the call, the siren rings, you're out the door. And I think what America better understands today than they did on September 10th, is sometimes when that happens, that spouse, that father, that son or that daughter doesn't come home. We just kind of take it for granted.

And so I say to each and every one of you, thanks for your service to your community, your commonwealth and your country, but please know that those of us who work with you and admire your work and are grateful for your work understand your whole family puts on the uniform. And so please tell your spouse and the kids that we said, we're grateful for them, too: because they're supportive of you, we want to be supportive of them. (Applause.)

There have been a lot of -- been quite a bit of commentary and analysis about how tough my job is, and how difficult it is, and some would say it's impossible, and da-da-da-da-da, and you know, you each go and you do the job. You get it done every single day.

But I try to remind folks, when the President called me and gave me the opportunity to serve the country in this capacity, he gave me a difficult and a challenging and, indeed, a complex job. But tough? No, you know what's tough? Showing up at a fire scene, strapping an hour or two worth of oxygen on your back, and plunging in to a burning building to see if you can save somebody. Now that's a tough job, and that's what you do. That's what you do. And we thank you for doing it.

And that's why I'm here, because as I've taken on this responsibility, one of the recommendations we've made to the President, and it is embodied in his budget, to fulfil his charge to our office to develop and implement a comprehensive national plan for homeland security. You notice it was a national plan, not a federal plan. Therefore, it means the federal government working with state government, working with local government. It means not just the public sector, but the private sector, as well.

And as we are developing this national plan, one of the first steps that we thought we needed to take was change, in a significant way, the relationship between the federal government and first responders. And change that relationship so that there was more financial support from the federal government to the local levels -- for the state and local levels, so that as we build up a national capacity to deal with a consequence -- consequence management -- that we will be better prepared today than we have been in the past.

For that reason, the President recommended to Congress that they include in its 2003 budget the sum of $3.5 billion for first responders. It's about a thousand percent increase, ladies and gentlemen. And what we're trying to do with that initiative, and what the President is trying to do in saying to the states and local governments, is that as we prepare our country for an enduring vulnerability, make no mistake about it, ladies and gentlemen, we have to be prepared to accept the possibility, the potential of a terrorist attack as a permanent condition around which we structure our lives and our community.

Not that we have to cower in fear, or hide, we just have to be better prepared. We need to be alert, we need to be aware, we need to be America. And in doing all those things, we also know we need to do some things differently today than we've done them before. And one of the most dramatic differences is getting the federal government involved, working with states and locals, to help first responders prepare for an event.

And it's not just about the $3.5 billion, but that's a huge investment -- nearly a thousand percent increase. It's how we want to distribute those dollars, to make sure that it gets down to the local level, where it belongs. But we also want to make sure that we build up capacity that's fairly similar around the country. We want to make sure that we're not only working with urban communities that have dense population, but we have to make sure we work with suburban and rural communities, those who have mutual aid agreements, so that they work together, and they have access to some of these dollars.

And so the way we've sent these initiatives to the Congress of the United States is basically this: 25 percent of that money is going to go the state capital. (Applause.) No, no, you're going to keep your hands off the other 75 percent, Governor, because we want that to go right down to the local levels -- right down to (inaudible). (Applause.)

Obviously, you want the Governor to have flexibility. I mean, Dave Smith, the task force you're working on, created by executive order, those dollars there give you some flexibility, not only to use it with state agencies, but also at the local level. But we know we need to drive that right down to the local level.

But we want it done in such a way that the dollars are distributed according to a plan. We have 18,000 municipalities in the United States. We've got 3,000 counties and parishes, 50 states and four territories. And if everybody goes charging out to the Congress in Washington, D.C. and says, give us a little money, we want to do this, this and that, we will not have a seamless national system. We have to build basic capacity around this country.

And so we're saying to the governors, we're saying to the state legislators, we're saying to the fire marshal and the emergency management team and the Homeland Security Director, we're saying, develop a plan. Start with your communities, take a look at what your needs are, look at the regions, and then put it all in a statewide plan. And this year and in future years, as we build that capacity, we will use your plans, not -- so it's not what Washington is going to tell you, you need, you can tell us what you need.

There's a huge menu of opportunities in here. It's going to go for equipment. Probably one of the first things people are interested in buying because of what they learned about 9/11 is interoperable communications equipment. You need to empower the men and women who respond, whether it's the state police, the local police, the paramedics, the EMTs, the firefighters -- they've got to be able to communicate with one another.

And tragically, one of the things we learned in New York City is that the communications system wasn't as good as it could have been. It's nobody's fault. I'm not casting any finger -- pointing any finger of responsibility or blame, we're just saying to be prepared, to be better prepared, we have to do things differently.

So, clearly, this initiative is not just about money, but it's how we plan, how we distribute it. It's about planning, it's about coordination, it's about exercising. We think -- I think the federal government ought to pay when you have a multi-county exercise and you have all your first responders going to a mock drill -- drill live -- not a tabletop, get them out in the community, let's work the process. That's an expense that the federal government ought to underwrite. And you will be able to underwrite it with the dollars that are coming down to your communities. We want you to practice. Practice does not only make perfect, practice saves lives. Practice saves time. And when you save time, you save lives as well.

Now, I think America would be very, very reassured -- if I could figure out a way to have 285 million Americans spend a couple of days or weeks with me, I think you would be very comforted to know not just what the Office of Homeland Security is doing; we go to work every day, we've got a lot of smart people working hard and we do a lot of different things. But you ought to see what America is doing.

I was with some Cincinnati firefighters, and they put together, with a little private sector help, their own urban search and rescue team. By the way, I've got to tip my hat again to the firefighters. A couple of the firefighters came up to me -- you'll love this, since you're they're leader -- the firefighters came up to me after we had a meeting like this down there and they said, gee, that $3.5 billion is a lot of money. We never, ever imagined the federal government would be looking to help the police and fire with that. And one of them said to me, you know, you had better test us to make sure that we spend that money wisely. He said, evaluate our performance.

He said, we're professional firefighters. You give us the money, we can prove to you that it's a good investment in homeland security. So you make sure you test us. And he says, by the way, if we pass the test, we'll be knocking on your door the next year for more money. I said, that's a good deal. (Applause.)

I've worked with some of the folks in Florida, doing some of their communities -- they've had to deal with natural disasters. So there is a natural inclination for some of those communities to have worked together to collaborate and cooperate. I took a look at what they're doing in Winston-Salem. And they've got an extraordinary group of local citizens, the emergency management team, the doctors in the hospitals, social service providers -- they have been gearing up.

We went down to Houston. After they got hit with those floods about two years ago, the community said, you know, this is a natural disaster, and showed us some weaknesses that we have in our ability to respond to this kind of event. We have -- need to be better prepared to respond to other kinds of events. So they've really harnessed that activity.

All 50 governors and four governors of the territories now have homeland security directors, kind of overseeing the development of some of these strategic plans. We've got visible signs of change and greater security at your airports. You've got National Guardsmen there, you've got more INS and Customs agents at the borders with the National Guard there. You've got members of the Cabinet working with various sectors of the economy in critical infrastructure, telecommunications and energy, our public utilities, our emergency services and the list goes on and on, looking how they can assure that we're better prepared today than we were on 9/11.

All across the country, we've got entrepreneurs from very well-established companies and some really bright, young entrepreneurs who are saying the biology of detection is something that we need to concentrate on, so let's see if we can develop a detection device for biohazards, or -- in order to better equip our first responders. Who knows what kind of environment they're going to.

We have facilities around this country we're going to ramp up and use to help train first responders. I was in Alabama the other day at Fort McClellan. They took a used base -- interesting -- you were on the Armed Services Committee -- they closed it after they built up -- they built some new buildings down there, they built a chemical facility. This was one of the few places in America where first responders train with live agents, not simulated agents. When you go in that room, I saw a simulation where a couple of first responders with all the appropriate equipment were dealing with sarin gas; another room where you deal with live chemicals. They train you with live chemicals. Good facilities where we can train the trainers and we can build a faculty of educated men and women who can deal with weapons of mass destruction and come back to Pennsylvania and work with Dave Smith and train the 70,000 men and women we have here.

All of these things are going on in America. Because after 9/11, everybody said, what can we do to make our homeland more secure? I have a fairly simple theory about this: if we can make every hometown secure, then I think the homeland is secure. And the way you make the hometown secure is you make sure you've got your first responders and your public health officials and your elected officials and your education leaders and your community leaders, working together on preparedness plans, working together to support one another, bringing the community together in preparation and in planning and in coordination. It's going on all over America.

So from my view -- I mean, I've got to get down in the weeds from time to time working on a lot of these issues, but I also get a chance to see an America at 30,000 or 35,000 feet, and I want you to know America is hard at work defending their hometowns and securing the homeland.

The folks on the front line of the defense effort are reflecting the men and women who are wearing those uniforms right here -- right here in Concordville, Fire Company 59 and their colleagues and their peers around the country.

So I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to spend this time with you this morning to celebrate, congratulate -- I don't need to motivate you, you're already there -- but also to tell Pennsylvania and the rest of this country that we need to provide that $3.5 billion to our police and fire and paramedics and EMTs.

You know, the President has just demonstrated and provided for this country incredible leadership. As a matter of fact, he's providing it for the world as we deal with the international threat of terrorism. He's fond to say that when -- he likes to say when al Qaeda struck us, when bin Laden took a shot at us, he got at our resolve. He expected perhaps we would run away, cower in fear, maybe lob a missile or two and then get out of the way. Maybe he thought we'd sue him, is one of the things the President likes to say.

Well, we know better, don't we? We know how tough America is, how resolute we are, how -- if you know anything about America's history, sometimes we are at our best in response to a challenge to our way of life. Sometimes, we show the best qualities of leadership, the best qualities of community, the best qualities of individuals when we're put to the test. We're put to a test now. But we continue being America. That's what's very important.

We are a free and open, loving, trusting, compassionate country, and we cannot compromise those qualities of this country. And we will not compromise those qualities. At the same time, we are more secure today than we were yesterday, and we're going to be more secure tomorrow, and we're going to continue to work on issues of security to confront this enduring vulnerability that we just have to accept as part of our existence.

And from my point of view, you would have to live in a cave not to know America is tough enough to meet any challenge, any time, and that we're resilient and creative and care enough about one another that we will secure our hometowns. And at the end of the day, we will secure the homeland. And we're going to do it with our first line of defense with our first responders. And I congratulate you and thank you very much. Thanks a lot. (Applause.)