print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation
In Focus
News by Date
Federal Facts
West Wing

 Home > News & Policies > April 2004

For Immediate Release
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
April 19, 2004

Secretary Ridge Discusses Homeland Security in Las Vegas


(Las Vegas, NV) Apr. 19, 2004 - SECRETARY RIDGE: Thank you. Every single day since September 11, 2001, you have kept America informed about this centurys greatest threat to the world community. Whether getting ready for work, going to school or just tuning into a favorite broadcaster any hour of the day, America has listened and learned about international terrorism from you.

America now knows some of the terrorists by name but still cannot comprehend such evil motives. We are repulsed by their savage methods and painfully aware of their innocent victims.

Throughout America and around the world, youve also reported the clear and collective resolve of people who value freedom over fear security over senseless destruction. We have sent the terrorists a clear and unmistakable message you are not freedom fighters; you are murderers, civilizations collective shame. On this issue, the world has come together and the world is coming after you.

And, as the eyes and ears of democracy, you often find yourself on the front lines of this fight. As Barbara Cochran has so wisely noted, Journalists, like police and firefighters, rush toward danger, not away from it. You play a critical and special role in free societies.

In an earlier era, Alexis de Tocqueville said the press in America does not just guarantee liberty; it maintains civilization. Today, in an era of 24-hour satellite coverage and instant Internet communication, that is no less true. But there are few existing blueprints for covering terrorism,

How do we inform the public without alarming them? Can we make people aware of the terrorist threat and, at the same time, empower them to prepare for it? It is a challenge we face at the Department of Homeland Security every day. I suspect its a challenge you face in your newsrooms as well.

We again saw the damage wrought by those who make loss of life their number one goal one month ago in Madrid. Terrorists struck innocent people only days before the free and democratic elections in Spain.

In this country, we soon enter a season that is rich with symbolic opportunities for the terrorists to try to shake our will. Americans will dedicate the World War II Memorial in Washington; host International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington, D.C. and the G-8 Summit in Georgia; celebrate Independence Day; travel to Athens for the Olympics; hold political conventions in Boston and New York; followed, of course, by our own elections, the traditional holidays and inaugural in 2005.

The terrorists are resolute, but we are more so. They plan and prepare -- and so must we. At this time we do not have specific, credible threat information around any of these events. But we do have common sense. And, we dont need a change in the threat level to improve security.

With so many symbolic gatherings in the next few months, we must be aggressive. These targets of opportunity for the terrorists are opportunities that cant be missed to tighten our security. We will increase our vigilance, accelerate the reduction of our vulnerabilities, and enhance our response capabilities so that they are poised and ready. Theres a lot going on around the country already. And wherever possible, we will ratchet it up.

Special attention will be given to areas of concern such as rail and air security, hazardous materials shipments, chemical facilities, and protection of the electrical grid, among others.

The Department of Homeland Security will lead a working group of federal agencies that will oversee this effort. This group will reach out to mayors, Governors and officials at every level of government, as well as the private sector.

The coordination forged among Homeland Security professionals in the last two and a half years has created a force multiplier to protect communities countrywide. This force works to improve the protection of our nation every day.

The bottom line is that homeland security is not about one Department, one level of government or one organization. It is a national call to action, a philosophy of shared responsibility, shared accountability, and shared leadership.

When the terrorist threat is directed at an entire nation, only an entire nation, working in close cooperation, can deter that threat. That same spirit of integration has guided the Media Security and Reliability Council. Your industrys leadership has produced some very sound recommendations that will help secure your facilities and infrastructure and ensure the continuous flow of information to the public in times of crisis.

The significance of this effort is that it is industry-driven, taps into the unique expertise that only you can provide. And that is the example we encourage the private sector as a whole to follow. The department looks forward to working with the Council as you implement and build on your recommendations.

Like your organizations, we constantly review our emergency response procedures to strengthen them. And, we run and participate in training exercises at all levels of government to find the gaps and plug them.

Many of you followed TOPOFF II, the largest terrorist exercise in American history, involving the simulated explosion of a radiological device in Seattle, and a simulated outbreak of pneumonic plague around Chicago.

One of the important reminders from TOPOFF II was that effective communication is the linchpin for efficient performance. As part of the drill, we formed a Video News Network to engage our crisis communication team. Our After-Action report noted that A consistent message to the public from incident command and the public health and medical communities is critical.

We have many initiatives underway to ensure that timely, accurate information is communicated during a crisis. Among these programs, we will partner with the National Academies of Science and the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation to co-host 10 regional exercises that will bring together members of the media and government public information officers. The goal of these sessions is to strengthen our emergency capabilities.

It has been 13 months since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. In a sense, DHS became the largest IPO ever on March 1, 2003. We became a public sector offering staked in the security of our country and, as such, everyone in the country, and the world, having a stake in its success.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of our first year was that we had to not only get the department up and running operationally -- meaning consolidate systems, integrate servers, and get a stapler on every desk.

But, also and foremost, we had to strengthen and extend the depth and breadth of our nations protective measures, particularly at our airports, seaports and borders. We unified the border inspection process, presenting one face at the border, which improved employee morale and service and reduced delays.

And after languishing for decades, a nationwide biometrics-based entry-exit visa check system is now reality after just eight months. Today, US-VISIT is stopping criminals and violators in their tracks at our air and seaports while allowing legitimate travelers and visitors to cross with little or no delay. Furthermore, by judging people based on their individual behavior and record, we can reduce our reliance on more arbitrary and unfair standards, such as nationality.

We improved aviation security from the curb to the cockpit by hiring and training tens of thousands of screeners on the ground, deploying thousands of federal air marshals in the skies, tightening security for air cargo and securing all cockpit doors.

On the seas, we made major improvements as well. We expanded our Container Security Initiative, or CSI. As I speak, U.S. inspectors are in Rotterdam, Singapore, Hong Kong and more than a dozen more ports of trade, working to inspect and label cargo long before it reaches American shores. Its part of our layered approach to improving the security of Americans.

We also created a powerful two-way flow of information with our state, local and tribal partners, through secure videoconferencing, expanded security clearances and the shared language of the Homeland Security Advisory System. It paid off last year as we improved our collective response to wildfires, hurricanes and the blackout. It paid off once again in December as our nation went to high alert status and we acted in a highly coordinated fashion to deter the threat.

While much work remains to be done, I can confidently state that as a nation we are more secure and far better prepared today than we were two years ago.

This year we will build on that progress. We will challenge ourselves and our partners to take their commitment and already extraordinary efforts to the next level so we can further expand and push a vast agenda for a truly integrated homeland security effort so that we can lay the foundation of homeland security for future years.

With each priority we set, I have added a call to action to our employees, our citizens and our partners in the public and private sector to work with us to achieve these goals.

Specifically, the Department will work to strengthen vertical communication systems and significantly increase protections around our nations most vital assets our bridges and water supplies, telecommunications and cyber-systems, chemical and nuclear facilities, hospitals and laboratories, food processing systems and more.

We will establish secure, real-time communications between all 50 states and the territories, install secure videoconferencing to all Governors offices, and identify technical specifications to establish baseline interoperability of communications for first responders.

We will also expand our nationwide citizen preparedness initiative, the Ready campaign, which launched last year in partnership with the Advertising Council. We thank those stations who ran the public service announcements, and I am pleased to report that thousands of Americans have responded and taken the steps to prepare themselves and their families for an emergency.

During the next year, we will expand the existing campaign by launching two new citizen preparedness endeavors: Ready for Business and Ready for School.

Our goal is that at least half of all Americans will take the steps to be better prepared by the end of 2004.

We will also by years end create a unified, national critical infrastructure database to identify vulnerabilities so we may better secure our symbols of freedom and the vast, complex systems that power them. We seek real-time, situational awareness across both physical borders and agency boundaries, in all directions, both vertically and horizontally. We will do everything we can to keep the American economy strong and the American way of life intact.

We are not in the business of protecting our freedom only to forsake it. Our vision statement reflects our emphasis: Preserving our freedoms, protecting America.we secure our homeland. After all, the terrorists have targeted both our people and our way of life.

Our mission goes beyond preventing terrorist attacks and securing our borders and ports. It includes welcoming lawful immigrants and visitors and promoting the free flow of commerce. And, as one of freedoms greatest champions, the news media the producers and writers and reporters in this room -- will always have a vital role to play.

The threat remains very real even if other issues may temporarily eclipse it in the public mind. At those times your reporting becomes more important, not less.

Abraham Lincoln once said that our government rests in public opinion.

By informing the public and asking insightful questions of its leaders, the media shapes and molds public opinion. Sometimes politicians complain about it. But it is vital to a functioning and fully aware democracy.

What motivates you motivates us the desire to never again have to report a catastrophe such as we experienced on September 11, 2001. As an open, welcoming nation, we recognize that we can never be 100 percent secure against terrorist attacks. But we will never succumb to despair. There is the old maxim: strength in numbers. And if there is any lesson we learned from 9-11, it is that freedoms greatest companion is fellowship, unity the integration of a nation everyone pledged to freedoms cause, everyone its protector.

We are anything but powerless against the threat. On the contrary, if we act together, we will be empowered to overcome it. Together, you and I, in our very different roles, will work to inform and educate our fellow citizens and ourselves and to strengthen this fellowship, this nation, this idea we call the United States of America.

Thank you.