Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

(NOTE: The Attorney General Often Deviates from Prepared Remarks)
National Emergency Management Association
February 25, 2002

    My thanks to James Greene, the President of the National Emergency Management Association, for the invitation to speak here today. The Department of Justice has long enjoyed a close working relationship with local first-response officials. It is my hope that this conference will open a new chapter of even closer coordination between us and will deepen a relationship that will make America a more safe and secure nation in the face of our terrorist enemies.

    We have all heard the saying: "Necessity is the mother of invention." While no doubt true, I believe a modified version of that saying, directly relevant to the current war on terror, would read something like this: "Necessity is the mother of cooperation." As we stand together in the struggle against terrorism, the priority of domestic preparedness rests on successful cooperation among the Department of Justice, various federal agencies, and those state and local officials on the front lines of this battle.

    As state emergency management officials, you represent key players in our nation. s system of domestic preparedness . our "first responders." Every day, in ways that will never make the front pages, you help make our lives safer and our property more secure.

    September 11th was a day of profound tragedy. But it was also an event from which those of us who serve the safety and security of the American people can learn. In the months since the attacks, for example, we have learned that the terrorists trained, planned and executed the attacks in different locations in order to minimize the possibility that they would be detected. The hijackers trained in camps in Central Asia. They planned most of the attacks in Europe. And they executed their plot here in the United States.

    This geographical distribution has had a great influence on how we go about identifying and dismantling terrorist networks in order to prevent future attacks. And it has an important lesson for emergency responders as well. No agency, department, or state or local government can do this job alone. If we are to win this war on terror . if we are to prevent further attacks or respond effectively in the unfortunate event attacks occur . we must work together.

    Our number one priority is the prevention of terrorist attacks. But we understand that our best efforts at prevention will not always be successful. In the aftermath of September 11th, we at the Justice Department, working with state and local first responders, have continued to promote coordinated programs and cooperative systems to make our response efforts as efficient as possible.

    In August of 2000, NEMA endorsed a resolution on States. Principles for a National Domestic Preparedness Strategy. We agree with the need -- expressed in your statement of principles -- for increased training, information sharing and technical assistance between federal and state government.

    To this end, we have increased the program budget of the Justice Department. s Office of Domestic Preparedness from $5 million in 1997 to over $600 million in 2002. The Office has implemented a three-year nationwide program to develop domestic preparedness strategies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. Territories.

    You asked for a federal approach that respects the unique characteristics and needs of each individual state. We at the Justice Department agree that the key to coordination is understanding the wide variety of local differences. In order to provide the most effective cooperation between federal officials and local leaders, the Office tailors its training, exercises, equipment grants and technical systems to the unique needs of each of these 56 jurisdictions.

    The Office of Domestic Preparedness has made more than $607 million available for the procurement of equipment for responding to attacks using weapons of mass destruction. We have delivered specialized equipment to major cities such as New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as to other potentially targeted cities such as New Orleans . home to the Super Bowl . and Salt Lake City . home to the 2002 Winter Olympics.

    Over the last five years, the Office has trained over 96,600 state and local emergency responders from more than 1,548 different jurisdictions. Working with local first responders, we offer 33 training programs ranging from basic awareness to advanced courses covering fire, hazardous materials, law enforcement, emergency medical services, public health, emergency management, and public works.

    The Office has conducted a total of 93 exercises and plans an additional 220 exercises in fiscal year 2002. In May 2000, for example, the ODP Exercise Program conducted the Top Officials exercise . the largest federal, state, and local full-scale simulation of chemical, biological, and radiological attacks ever conducted. A second such exercise is planned for the spring of 2003. These exercises and others bring to bear the full resources of the federal government to help state and local emergency teams prepare effective response strategies for use in the event of a terrorist attack.

    The security preparations undertaken for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City are an example of how federal-state cooperation can produce what has been a safe and successful winter games. The Department has provided significant support and conducted multiple exercises focused on preparedness, response, and recovery from a potential terrorist incident during the games. In addition to these exercises, we have provided extensive training to public safety personnel charged with responding to potential terrorist attacks.

    The work we have done thus far marks significant progress in developing a more coordinated approach to domestic preparedness. We must, however, do more. This administration has proposed significant changes in how the federal government is organized and prepared for domestic terrorism and we at the Department of Justice support the Administration. s plans. This conference brings together the key players in this endeavor, and over the course of this week and beyond, I am confident we will strengthen the working relationship between the federal agencies charged with domestic preparedness and the local first responders serving on the front lines of this noble and critical effort.

    The war on terrorism has asked all Americans to be vigilant. Since September 11, the necessity of saving lives has been the mother of unprecedented cooperation among Americans with little in common other than a new sense of responsibility for themselves, their families and their neighbors. Whether it was the heroes of Flight 93, who sacrificed themselves in a field in Pennsylvania so terrorists would not succeed in striking Washington a second time on September 11, or the heroes of Flight 63, who confronted and subdued Richard Reid, who is charged with attempting to blow up that plane with explosives hidden in his shoes, Americans have found a new unity and purpose in the face of terror.

    Thank you for being here today and for showing the same vigilance and purpose. Only together will we face down this threat, vanquish this evil, and live on to enjoy the blessing of liberty.

    Thank you very much.