Colorado Gets an 'A' for Emergency Planning

Colorado ranks among the states best prepared to deal with public emergencies, including terrorist attacks, the undersecretary of the federal Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.

Speaking at the annual Governor's Conference on Emergency Management, Undersecretary Michael Brown offered reassurance that Colorado is among the states where emergency response coordination has been ratcheted up, partly because public-safety agencies already have experience dealing with major events, both planned and unplanned.

He cited the papal visit for World Youth Day and the Summit of Eight as massive scheduled events that Colorado successfully hosted. He also cited the Columbine High School massacre as an unforeseen tragedy that led to streamlining response efforts among several departments.

"Being better prepared for natural disasters leads to being better prepared for a terrorist event," Brown said, describing how the mindset that Coloradans rely on to cope with an approaching blizzard contributes to devising strategies to help residents rebound if there is a terrorist attack.

"President Bush says he knows (terrorists) still intend to do us harm," he said, but "we are so much better prepared to respond to any emergency than we ever have been before."

On the Colorado level, state Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, agreed that the state is "probably as well-prepared as any other state in the country" to deal with local emergencies such as wildfires and flooding.

However, Wiens, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Homeland Security who did not attend the meeting but was reached by telephone, said the state has received more than $130 million in federal funding since Sept. 11, 2001, but has not developed an integral response plan to a major disaster.

He said the state should develop such a plan and then pursue specific federal grants in line with the plan.

Picking up on Brown's themes, Fran Santagata, Gov. Bill Owens' special assistant on homeland security, called for members of the public to use their eyes and ears in the hometown front on the war on terror.

"We can't to this without our citizens. We have to empower our citizens," Santagata said, recalling Civil Defense drills in the 1950s, when schoolchildren were taught to take cover under their desks and families were urged to make emergency plans in case of a missile attack.

Both Brown and Santagata said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks irrevocably changed the nation.

"We are looking at things differently," Santagata said. "When we respond to a chemical spill or a plane crash, we have to ask ourselves whether it was deliberately caused, and we didn't use to have to ask ourselves that."

Despite the overall tone of the conference that Colorado is ahead of the curve in emergency planning, Tommy Grier, director of the Colorado Division of Emergency Management, said disaster planning requires regular evaluation to keep current.

"The state's emergency plan is still marked 'draft' because it keeps changing," Grier said.

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