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Ridge calls for public-private partnerships to improve security
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Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told public safety officials in St. Paul the private and public sectors must cooperate to ensure security from terrorism. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
The U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge told a St. Paul audience Thursday night that safety doesn't just come from Washington, but from the efforts of states, cities and counties. Ridge delivered the keynote address at a symposium that attracted about 300 Minnesota public safety business, and government leaders. Ridge told the group that public and private partnerships will be critical to keeping America safe in the years ahead.

St. Paul, Minn. — The Department of Homeland Security has become a massive bureaucracy. In January 2003 the DHS consolidated 22 agencies employing more than 180,000 people. Its employees handle a range of duties including national border and immigration control, and emergency preparedness.

President Bush created the agency and appointed Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, as its first director a month after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Ridge told the audience at a River Centre ballroom in St. Paul that Americans are safer and better prepared than ever before. But he says despite the best efforts, there's no way to guarantee another terrorist attack won't happen in the U.S. He says the country must provide additional layers of security that go beyond U.S. borders.

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Image Rich Stanek

"Al Qaeda's self-professed goal is to destroy the American economy. And in this era of globalization, the American economy does not stop at the water's edge," Ridge says. "It extends to every seaport, airport and nation where people are free to buy the goods and services we produce. So obviously our efforts to secure the homeland have an international dimension as well."

Ridge says everyone has a role to play in the war against terrorism.

He says because between 52 and 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure belongs to the private sector, the private sector should pay the costs to keep that infrastructure secure because government can't do it alone.

Ridge also called for a new relationship with the federal government.

"You can't secure the country from Washington. The only way you can secure the homeland is to make sure the hometowns are secure," says Ridge. "So I see police chiefs, and fire chiefs and mayors and homeland security advisers and folks like that. We need build our infrastructure and our model from the ground up. We'll provide the strategy, leadership, hopefully technology and a lot of money, but we need to build partnerships across the board."

That's really the foundation of any strong homeland security program -- is that people in an apartment building or on a block know each other and can work together if they need to.
- Sue Gehrz, mayor of Falcon Heights

Minnesota recently received more than $26 million in homeland security grants. That's on top of $10 million that's come to the state since March. And Ridge says if the president's 2004 budget proposal is approved, $8 billion would be available to states for homeland security.

That's good news for Sue Gehrz, the mayor of Falcon Heights -- a St. Paul suburb of just over 5,000 residents. She says to cope with budget problems, Falcon Heights is actively engaging community members to play a role in the suburb's security.

"We trained 62 people in first aid, trained 11 people in how to help manage traffic in a disaster situation. We've done personal safety training. We've trained people in how do you give an awesome block party," Gehrz says. "Because that's really the foundation of any strong homeland security program -- is that people in an apartment building or on a block know each other and can work together if they need to."

Falcon Heights' homeland security plan was discussed as part of a daylong conference on homeland security. The Twin Cities-based International Conference Foundation sponsored the event.

The organization's Peter Hutchinson says the foundation chose the subject for the symposium because, as he says, it's everywhere.

"Homeland Security has just invaded our lives. It wasn't something we chose, but it turns out to be something that's necessary," Hutchinson says. "The concern I think we all have as Minnesotans, and certainly as Americans, is what is happening? What's real, and what's not real? How is it changing our lives? Do we like those changes and do we have an opinion about them, and are we willing to accept them?"

The conference also included panel discussions on bioterrorism, technology, and the politics of homeland security.

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