By SCOTT SHEWFELT, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - The Washington region needs federal help providing security in seven glaring areas, including responding to weapons of mass destruction, the chief executives of Maryland, Virginia and the District told U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff Tuesday.
The trio of Democrats—Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine and District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty—joined Chertoff to announce that joint National Guard exercises would take place in early September and all four agencies will meet for "tabletop exercises," to work through disaster scenarios.
The quartet met for just over an hour and devised a list of seven areas to receive increased funding: coordinated regional planning, weapons of mass destruction response, intelligence sharing, citizen preparedness and protection, mass casualty capacity, communications systems and security for power, water and transportation operations in the region.
The details will be made available to the public April 5, Fenty said.
"This is about increasing our capacity as a metro-economy," O'Malley said, adding there just wasn't enough time to talk about all the items in everyone's vulnerability reports, just the most pressing.
"Safety is a collaborative effort," Kaine said.
Securing communication networks and making sure all four operations centers can maintain contact during the first critical hour is paramount, Fenty said.
Chertoff said he was "delighted," with the meeting and applauded the integrated approach of the National Capital Region, which is defined by Congress as the District of Columbia, Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland, and Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, as well as Arlington and Alexandria, in Virginia.
While lesser humans may have withered under the embarrassment, neither Chertoff nor Fenty allowed their identical neck ties to dim the enthusiasm of the group.
O'Malley, a proponent of expanding the national capital region to include Baltimore, justified his position by saying that in the event of any large-scale evacuations, cities like Baltimore and Richmond, Va., would end up as havens for refugees, much as Baton Rouge, La., became during the Katrina disaster. But he added it is difficult to talk about expanding an area and trying to get more funding, when the amount of money being given for homeland security is shrinking.
There is the need to plan more broadly, including parts of Delaware and Pennsylvania, Chertoff agreed, but there is also a unique focus in the existing region that is working well and it is set in law.
"It is not a zero-sum game," he said, just because areas are not included in this region, doesn't mean they are not a concern or prepared.