Homeland Security Chief Calls for Adoption of Emergency Preparedness Standards

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge emphasized the importance of standards in his testimony to the 9-11 Commission during its public hearing in New York City on May 19.

The two-day hearing, which included testimony from various civic and federal leaders including former New York Mayor Rudolph Giulliani, former New York Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik and former New York Fire Commissioner Thomas Van Essen, addressed emergency preparedness and crisis response in the context of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"The American National Standards Institute and the National Fire Protection Association have developed national emergency preparedness standards that the Department of Homeland Security encourages businesses and organizations to adopt," Ridge testified.

"I think it was a very decisive move of you to endorse national standards in emergency preparedness," said 9-11 Commissioner John F. Lehman in response to Ridge's testimony. "This was a terrific accomplishment."

Through previous witness testimony, the commission found that despite 9/11, the private sector remains largely unprepared for a terrorist attack. Discovering the lack of a widely embraced private sector preparedness standard, the commission responded by asking ANSI for assistance. On April 29, ANSI presented a recommendation developed by the institute's Homeland Security Standards Panel (ANSI-HSSP), which offered the American National Standard for Disaster/ Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs (NFPA 1600). The recommendation grew out of input from safety, security and business continuity experts from a wide range of industries and associations, as well as from federal, state and local government.

Interoperability in communications technology such as radio equipment used by first responders proved to be a critical topic of discussion during the hearing. Based on evidence that first responders in the New York fire and police departments had tremendous difficulty communicating amongst themselves and between agencies on 9/11, a strong call for standardization in this area of technology was made. The ANSI-HSSP will be convening an initial workshop on emergency communications within the next several months and interoperability will be one of the main areas to be addressed.

Ridge also commented on his department's adoption of five national standards in personal protective equipment for first responders, which provide manufacturers with requirements for the design, performance, testing and certification of equipment for first responders. Adopted in February by the department's Science and Technology division, the standards are intended to assist state and local procurement officials in selecting the best protective gear to safeguard first responders against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents. The standards were developed by NFPA and subsequently approved by ANSI as American National Standards.

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