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Governor O'Malley says the state has come a long way in defending against threats since 9/11

TelevisionExecutive BranchSeptember 11, 2001 AttacksDowntown Partnership of Baltimore

None of us will ever forget where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. Many of my family members were in New York. I remember the feeling of dread when I couldn't reach anyone by phone. Among the nearly 3,000 who died in the attacks, 68 names are inscribed in the memorial unveiled in Baltimore today.

As we remember those we lost, perhaps the most lasting, lifesaving tribute we can give them is to improve our nation's homeland security.

Recently, the 9/11 Commission reported that "Today, our country is undoubtedly safer and more secure than it was a decade ago … [but] our terrorist adversaries and the tactics and techniques they employ are evolving rapidly. We will see new attempts, and likely successful attacks."

To better prepare our state for a future attack, and the inevitability of the next hurricane or tornado, we have pursued 12 core goals over this past decade, first in Baltimore and now in Maryland as a whole. Not many states can say this.

The 12 goals are:

•Interoperable communications. A decade ago, a statewide communication network that allowed police officers, firefighters and EMTs to talk with one another was a pipedream. By the end of this year, we will have regional interoperability in every Maryland county. And we're building out a statewide network.

•Closed circuit television. While the Downtown Partnership had a handful of cameras, Baltimore owned not one crime camera on Sept. 11. Within two years, we had built up a network of 50 cameras. Statewide, today we have more than 8,400 state-owned cameras.

•Rapid, robust intelligence and information sharing at every level. In 2001, government agencies were ineffective at sharing information with each other. Today, we've built one of America's most comprehensive intelligence fusion centers, bringing together more than 25 state, local, and federal agencies.

•Transportation security. Five years ago, security at the Port of Baltimore was a laughingstock. Today, for the third year in a row, the Coast Guard gives us a near perfect grade. And we continue to upgrade security at BWI, as well as for our bridges, tunnels, Metro and Amtrak.

•Knowing and hardening our critical infrastructure. In 2001, very few governments conducted vulnerability assessments of their critical infrastructure. Today, we've cataloged 3,800 critically important sites, and we're working with partners in the counties to harden them.

•Effective hazmat and bomb squad response. Prior to Sept. 11, hazmat and bomb response teams weren't thought of as core counterterrorism units. Today, we have a regional response network of bomb squads who cross-train with SWAT teams.

•Personal protective equipment. Before Sept. 11, personal protective equipment was only for firefighters. Today, officers in the state's five main police departments are equipped with it.

•Planning. When I first took office, an employee of the state's Emergency Management Agency, MEMA, who is no longer with us, said that "planning is overrated." Today, we've reestablished the planning division at MEMA, updated the continuity of operations plan for every state agency, and entered agreements with eight sites to act as mass care, state-run shelters in emergencies.

•Training. Prior to Sept. 11, training for emergency response was rare. Last year alone, MEMA provided 60 local homeland security trainings and supported 24 statewide exercises.

Backup power and communications. Ten years ago, we did not think of backup power and communications as a matter of public safety. Today, we've equipped facilities like emergency operations centers, nursing homes, wastewater treatment plants, emergency shelters and newly constructed schools with backup power.

•Biosurveillance. Prior to Sept. 11, individual hospitals, paramedics, pharmacies and schools had information on symptoms coming though their doors, but we had no system to connect this reality into a central warning system to identify and track the emergence and spread of outbreaks. Today, we connect all our acute care hospitals as well as data from pharmacies and paramedics through a biosurveillance system called ESSENCE.

•Mass Casualty and Health System Surge. Ten years ago, we didn't have tools to deal with a mass casualty incident or hospital surge. Today, we've built a medical dashboard that integrates what used to be separate critical systems.

Over the last 10 years, our state has become better prepared. In the years ahead, we must work to become more resilient. In a more resilient Maryland, our citizens are better prepared when a disaster strikes. When it's over, they are better able to quickly get their lives back in order, with minimal disruption, and a minimal economic hit.

This is something government cannot do alone. We need active citizen engagement. Private sector engagement and the actions of faith groups and nonprofits are also critically important.

Coming together in times of adversity is a tradition in Maryland that dates back to 1814, when the people of Baltimore came together to protect our homeland from the British invasion.

The best tribute we can give to the victims of Sept. 11 and their families is to come together once again to build a safer, more secure and more resilient Maryland.

Martin O'Malley is governor of Maryland. His e-mail is governor@gov.state.md.us.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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