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Remarks by Secretary Michael Chertoff at Fire Chiefs Summit

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 05, 2005 2:18 pm    Post subject: Remarks by Secretary Michael Chertoff at Fire Chiefs Summit Reply with quote

Remarks by Secretary Michael Chertoff, U.S. Department of Homeland Security at the International Association of Fire Chiefs Leadership Summit

Washington, D.C.
International Association of Fire Chiefs Leadership Summit
November 4, 2005
(Remarks as Prepared)

Good morning. Thank you Chief Killen for that introduction. I’m honored to be here today with a group that has done so much to support this Department and to carry out the mission we all share to protect and safeguard our communities and citizens.

That is a mission this organization has faithfully upheld for more than 130 years. Our fire services are the original “all-hazards” agencies – responding to everything from forest fires to toxic chemical spills to medical emergencies.

Your unparalleled experience has been a critical asset as we have worked to shape our own “all-hazard” Department and build capacities to prepare, prevent and respond to all manner of threats – whether man-made or natural disasters.

When disaster strikes, our first responders, our firefighters are the first on the scene. That is a principle that can be seen in action on a daily basis in communities all over this nation – a principle that was vividly on display during the response to one of the most devastating hurricane seasons on record.

The entire nation witnessed the courage and dedication of firefighters and other first responders arriving from all over the country – rushing in to restore order and save lives. I want to thank you personally for all that you did and continue to do in the wake of these terrible storms.

Katrina: Lessons Learned and Preparedness

Hurricane Katrina put to the test for the first time the new National Response Plan that many of you here as well as other federal, state, and local partners worked with our Department to create and implement over the past few years.

And it was by any measure an extraordinary test. The one-two combination of a catastrophic hurricane and massive flood stretched the normal disaster relief system. Some things worked well. But there were shortcomings that we must urgently address.

This tragedy has emphasized how critical it is that we ensure our planning and response capabilities perform with seamless integrity and efficiency in any type of disaster situation – even one of cataclysmic nature.

Furthermore, it emphasized the importance of having accurate, timely and reliable information about true conditions on the ground, the lack of which frustrated our best efforts to coordinate the response with our state and local counterparts.

We have to learn the lessons of what happened, so we can make needed improvements. And, we will look to the first responder community – to our firefighters – to continue to play an integral role by using your own experiences to weigh in with recommendations and assist in the evaluation process.

As we complete our after action reports, in the short term, there are several immediate steps we can take to begin strengthening the system. I’d like to briefly mention a few here.

First, we must re-tool FEMA and enhance this vital agency’s capabilities so that it can fulfill its historic and critical mission supporting response and recovery. What does that re-tooling mean?

It means a more effective distribution and delivery system for supplies, more efficient business processing and disaster registration systems, and enhanced communications capabilities.

We are fortunate to have Chief Paulison, someone I know with whom all of you are familiar, overseeing FEMA and aiding our efforts to address deficiencies discovered during Hurricane Katrina.

Another step we are taking to combat the lack of dependable information coming from the ground is to develop emergency reconnaissance teams that can go into a disaster area and feed back reliable, real-time information to be used at all levels of government.

These teams will consist of not only FEMA disaster assistance specialists, but also Coast Guard personnel, CBP, Secret Service, and other DHS law enforcement officers and assets.

Finally, we must move forward with the creation of a preparedness directorate as outlined under the Second Stage Review plan we released in July. Many of you are familiar with this piece of the equation as you were instrumental with advice and recommendations throughout the 2SR process.

To ensure that our preparedness efforts have focused direction, we intend to integrate the Department’s existing preparedness efforts -- including planning, training, exercising, and funding -- into a single directorate for Preparedness. A process that is already moving forward.

The FY 06 budget contains $4 billion for this initiative, and recently, the President nominated George Foresman to be Under Secretary for Preparedness and oversee this new directorate.

Of course, preparedness is not just about response and recovery – rather it must draw on the full spectrum – from prevention through protection to response. Our preparedness directorate will rely on the expertise of FEMA, but it will also integrate the experience and capabilities of our other operational assets including the U.S. Fire Administration, Coast Guard, ICE, Secret Service, as well as our training assets such as the Emergency Management Institute and the National Fire Academy.

Going forward, FEMA will become a direct report to the Secretary, allowing it to focus on response and recovery while partnering with the new preparedness directorate to increase our overall capabilities in both of these important areas.

In light of Hurricane Katrina and at the direction of the President, we are also working with federal, state and local officials to review the emergency operations plans of every major American urban area and ensure that those plans are clear, detailed, and up-to-date.

This includes specifically a hard, realistic look at evacuation planning ranging from earthquakes to subway bombings.

These steps are just the beginning and in the weeks and months ahead, we will move forward to build our preparedness capability and ensure that the United States is ready to meet any type of threat or disaster with which we are faced.

DHS and Firefighters – Partnership Efforts

Our capacity to do so depends on our ability to work collaboratively and seamlessly with our partners across all levels of government and throughout the first responder community.

Not only is it our responsibility to ensure that you have the necessary equipment, resources, and training to do your job, but also that you are full partners at the table as together we make decisions that impact the state of our emergency preparedness.

The Department of Homeland Security has worked to provide firefighters with the resources and funding you need. Through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program, just this year alone we will award more than $580 million to fire departments all across the country for operations and safety equipment.

But more than just funds, we have also put together a new incident management framework that puts all of us on the same page and provides an overarching structure for emergency preparedness. It is a blueprint designed to guide and coordinate the integration of our capabilities and resources across county and state lines.

In developing both the National Incident Management System and the National Response Plan, firefighters played a critical role in the process. In fact, as all of you know well, NIMS, the nation’s first ever multi-discipline, intergovernmental standardized incident management plan, was based on the highly successful Incident Command System pioneered and used for more than 30 years by America’s fire services.

Hurricane Katrina emphasized how imperative this tool is to the integration and coordination of our response efforts during a crisis, and it must be a priority to ensure that every locality understands how to utilize this system.

Fire service representatives have also been closely involved in our work to develop the National Preparedness Goal that will help guide efforts to distribute resources to where they can have the greatest impact and effect in strengthening our defenses.

Just as important: You’ve also helped harness one of our nation’s most valuable and underutilized resources…citizens. Last December, you partnered with us to launch the Fire Corps initiative – a component of Citizen Corps designed to serve two strategic purposes.

One by tapping citizens to provide administrative support firefighters are free to focus on the specialized training and duties of your life-saving work.

And two it engages citizens in the work of emergency preparedness, motivating them to address the safety of their homes and communities and spreading the message of shared responsibility to neighbors and friends.

You should be commended for how much this program has truly taken off – launched last December with 13 local fire departments – today, there are more than 370 departments actively involved in 45 states and Guam.


In the end, while it falls to the Department of Homeland Security to lead the national effort to protect and prepare our communities, we must and do count heavily on partnerships. Whether citizens, mayors, CEOs, or first responders, we could not succeed without the help of dedicated partners…partners like you who help shoulder the security burden and shape the development of security solutions.

I want to assure you that as a Department we will continue to reach out to you so that your valuable insight and first hand experience are brought to bear on the difficult challenges we confront. In the end, those of you who are on the ground protecting your communities on a daily basis understand what needs to be done to keep those very communities safe.

And so, while we change to meet the challenges of an ever evolving security environment, one thing that will not change is our commitment to our nation’s firefighters and our reliance on you to help us uphold our responsibility to secure and preserve our homeland.

Thank you.
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