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US Homeland Security Center Fosters Cooperation, Preparedness

U.S. officials face the challenge of coordinating many levels of government in an emergency, whether a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. They are addressing the challenge at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, California.

From hurricanes on the Gulf Coast to earthquakes in California, each part of the country faces different dangers. The common threat of terrorism is shared by communities throughout the United States.

Officials from around the country come to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security to evaluate the threats in an executive training forum and a graduate program that leads to a master's degree. The center, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the campus of the Naval Postgraduate School, also offers seminars for mayors and governors and their staffs.

A Los Angeles Fire Department deputy chief, Mario Rueda, is taking part in the executive leader's program. He says wildfires and earthquakes always threaten California, and the work of his department has expanded.

"... whether it be from hazardous materials, urban search and rescue, issues of plane crash, transportation accidents, sinkings of boats in the port, subways, high-rise buildings, just a whole variety of events now that a firefighter has to be trained and prepared to respond to on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week, and the public expects proficiency when we get there," Rueda said.

New Jersey, on the U.S. East Coast, is the most densely populated state, notes deputy attorney general Tim Crowley, general counsel for the New Jersey office of homeland security preparedness.

"We have a lot of critical infrastructure right on top of each other with population centers right there, so everything is right on top of each other - chemical plants, petroleum plants, airports, those kind of things, with fairly big cities," Crowley said.

Florida and the Gulf Coast face annual hurricanes, but Scott McAllister, Florida's deputy homeland security advisor, says the state must be ready for unforeseen disasters, both natural and man-made. He says the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, offer a prime example.

"Probably not a lot of folks have envisioned the concept of airliners being used to be flown into buildings as a weapon. The issue we face is really trying to prepare for and anticipate that unknown threat," McAllister said.

Ellen Gordon of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security notes power is decentralized in the United States, which she says is a challenge. It is divided among the executive branch of government, the legislature and courts, with local, state and federal officials, each with their own areas of authority.

"It takes all three levels of government, all branches of government at all three levels, as well as the private sector, to make it happen. So it is a challenge, but I have seen it work," Gordon said.

About 90 people a year graduate from the center's master's-degree program in homeland security. Another 30 complete the executive-leader's program.

Gordon says that addressing today's threats takes the kind of cooperation, discussion and planning that happens here.