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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness Conference and Exposition


Fort Washington, MD
United States

Thank you, Laurie [Robinson], for your kind words – and, especially, for your outstanding leadership of the Office of Justice Programs.  It’s a pleasure to stand with you this morning – and to join you in welcoming so many colleagues and critical partners to this important conference.

I’d also like to recognize the great work that our co-sponsors from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security have done to bring such a wide range of stakeholders together today.  From key federal partners, to policy experts, researchers, and front-line practitioners, each of you is an essential part of the incident response community.  Each of you has a perspective that will enrich and enhance our understanding of the issues at the center of this conference.  And as you move through this week’s ambitious agenda, each of you has not only the power, but the opportunity to strengthen our nation’s ability to prevent, respond to, and recover from critical incidents – wherever and whenever they occur.

In addition to providing an invaluable forum for exchanging ideas, this conference also reinforces the close – and ongoing – collaboration between law enforcement responders and Cabinet-level agencies; industry representatives and grant administrators; researchers, policymakers, and members of the responder community at every level.

I believe it is especially fitting that we come together this week, as we approach the tenth anniversary of the most devastating terrorist attacks ever carried out against the United States – and it’s appropriate that we assemble just across the river from one of the targets that al-Qaeda struck on that terrible day.

As national leaders in the incident response field, I know there’s not a single person in this room who has not reflected, at length, on the unspeakable events of 9/11, or the lessons that day carried for men and women in our line of work.  Just as we’ve all been inspired by the heroism we saw from first responders and ordinary citizens, we’ve also thought about the things that went right – and what might have been done differently.

But one thing is clear: we’ve come a long way in the last decade.  We’ve seen breakthrough technological advances and more effective communications platforms and techniques.  But in spite of the improvements and innovations that have marked the last ten years, it’s important to remember that – in those crucial first seconds after an incident is reported – even the most advanced technology is just a tool.  It is the individual who wields the tool – the local, state, tribal, or federal responder – who ensures public safety and saves lives.

That’s why gatherings like this one are so important: because they give us the chance to showcase the capabilities at our disposal as we work to shape – and to reinforce – a multi-jurisdictional, coordinated approach to critical incident response.  I’m proud of the pivotal role that our nation’s Department of Justice continues to play in these advancing efforts, and of the essential work we are leading to ensure an effective response to emergencies ranging from industrial accidents, to natural disasters  – like the earthquake and hurricane that put East Coast responders to the test just last week  – and, of course, terrorist acts.

But our commitment to addressing these challenges runs much deeper than the vigilant work of components like the National Security Division, the FBI, and the ATF.  Perhaps less visible – but no less important – are the Department’s efforts to build the capacity of our nation’s criminal justice community to prevent, respond to, and recover from incidents of all types by conducting and supporting research, providing training opportunities, administering grants, and offering direct assistance to key partners at every level.

These partnerships not only form the backbone of our response capabilities in communities across the country – they also play an essential role in informing the work we do at the federal level.  From the National Institute of Justice research that guides the development of new equipment, to the performance standards and testing activities that ensure the tools used by responders are safe and effective – at every step along the way, we rely on your feedback.  We depend on your engagement.  To be blunt, we need your help.

And I’m grateful that you have always stood ready to provide it. 

This was especially clear last year when, in response to concerns raised by the Interagency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability – or IAB – the National Institute of Justice helped to spearhead efforts to develop new standards for equipment designed to protect law enforcement personnel from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear hazards.  I am proud – and we can all be encouraged – that NIJ researchers addressed this need, not merely by writing a letter or commissioning a study, but by taking direct action – convening a working group of stakeholders that ranged from scientists, to engineers, to law enforcement responders themselves – and publishing a new set of equipment standards that met the requirements of IAB.  NIJ is now working with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that new protective ensembles would be eligible for purchase using grants administered by DHS.

They didn’t just listen to your concerns.  They stepped up and solved the problem.

This reflects the renewed focus that NIJ researchers have placed on finding ways to address gaps in our technological capabilities.  And it reinforces the commitment to broad-based, constructive engagement that drives the Justice Department’s efforts from the ground up.

In much the same spirit, I’m pleased to report that the Department has taken new steps to work with our law enforcement partners in implementing critical policy updates and leveraging new technologies to detect – and to prevent – possible terrorist acts.  At the center of this is the network of partnerships that Laurie mentioned a few minutes ago – between agencies here in Washington and our counterparts at the state, local, and tribal level – known as the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, or NSI. 

NSI’s success is the result of outstanding leadership – by Laurie and her team, by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, by the members of the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, and – of course – by our many partners.

Through these partnerships, we’ve established a national capacity for gathering, documenting, processing, analyzing, and sharing the suspicious activity reports we receive every day from law enforcement officials, private security organizations, and even members of the general public.  And we’re “connecting the dots” more quickly and more effectively than ever before. 

But, as we’ve seen all too often – most clearly on September 11th and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – the fact is that, in times of crisis, even the best information is rendered useless if responders are unable to share it broadly and immediately.

That’s why, over the last two years, the Justice Department has taken an increasingly active role in helping to ensure that the communication needs of federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies are met – and cumbersome jurisdictional barriers are broken down.

Thanks to the leadership of Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli; Assistant Attorney General Robinson and her colleagues in the Office of Justice Programs and the National Institute of Justice; and Director Barney Melekian and his team in the COPS Office, we’ve been able to work in partnership with the White House and the Departments of Homeland Security and Commerce to open a series of discussions concerning the public safety broadband network and the future of the D-Block. 

So long as I am Attorney General, we will continue to advocate for meaningful, affordable access to radio spectrum when and where you need it.  And – for as long as it takes – we’ll continue to bring policymakers together with leaders from law enforcement, the broader public safety community, and the telecommunications industry to make sure you have access to the resources you need.

Now, in spite of the recent progress we’ve made – and especially in this time of growing demands and limited budgets, I know your work has – in many ways – never been more difficult.  But there’s no question that it’s also never been more important.  And, as threats to our national security and public safety continue to grow and evolve, the need to bring our strategies, capabilities, and technological tools into the 21st century has never been greater.

Already, the collaborative approach we’ve adopted is showing signs of promise.  From initiatives like the NSI and regional “fusion centers,” to training facilities like the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School, to our efforts to ensure officer safety – we’ve developed important innovations – and achieved significant results – by working together.

But I am not yet satisfied – and we can never afford to become complacent.  So, as we look to the future, we must continue to cooperate, to advocate, and to raise awareness about the fact that we can fight crime more successfully, we can secure our homeland more reliably, and we can protect our fellow citizens and our first responders more effectively by ensuring that public safety officers have access to the latest technologies and the best information-sharing techniques available.

And, although significant obstacles remain, I’m confident that gatherings like this one – and the work each of you performs every single day – will help to bring these efforts to the next level.

This morning, let us renew our commitment to increased cooperation and collaboration.  Let us seize the opportunity to expand our circle of partners, and to engage more researchers, practitioners, and policymakers in this important work.

As a result of the dedication and expertise of everyone in this room, we’re on the right path.  And, as I look out over this crowd, I can’t help but feel optimistic about our ability to move forward, and to build on the record of progress that you have helped to establish.

Thank you, once again, for everything you continue to do, and for the work you are helping to lead every day.  I am honored to stand with you – and privileged to count you as partners.  And I look forward to all that we must – and will – accomplish together for the people – and the nation – we are so privileged to serve.

Updated August 18, 2015