State officials will meet today with Tom Ridge

Friday, November 16, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden and top state officials will meet today with federal Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and members of Missouri's congressional delegation to discuss security issues.

The trip to Washington is an attempt to open up lines of discussion between federal agencies and state and local governments in preparation for a potential terrorist attack, Holden said.

"We're going to be talking about the coordination and communication between the different departments because I think it's extremely important that we have that communication occurring on a regular basis," Holden told reporters in his Capitol office Thursday.

"The front line in the future is going to be many of the local health agencies and police departments," he said. "The key here is to have everyone working as a team."

Among those accompanying Holden will be security adviser Tim Daniel, Missouri Adj. Gen. Dennis Shull, State Emergency Management Agency Director Jerry Uhlmann and Maureen Dempsey, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Holden said federal funding for security operations is not the focus of his trip.

"We're going to try and get as much clarification as possible (about funding), but this really an effort to update Congress about what is going on," Holden said.

Holden previously has urged Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to include money in an economic stimulus for state security needs. He also has signed a letter, along with several other governors, seeking federal assistance from President Bush.

The state has spent more than $700,000 on security measures since the Sept. 11 attacks, despite a tight budget. Budget officials were expected to discuss the impact of the attacks on state revenues during a briefing Friday in Jefferson City.

Daniel said he is concerned about the lack of communication between the federal government and the state in areas such as preparation for biological or chemical attacks.

"We need to improve our communications as a first step ... so we can respond to a potential near-term threat," Daniel said.

Even though chances are slim that Missouri would be a target for a biological attack, Daniel said, that does not diminish the need to be prepared.

"Hope is not a method," Daniel said. "Certainly, we need federal money to improve our ... health-care delivery. But more important, we need to articulate a strategy."

U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., his party's ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, said Missouri has done well in responding to terrorist threats.

"I think Missouri is ahead of the game, doing more than any other state as far as I can tell," said Skelton, who also praised Daniel's work. "I think the plans he has drawn up are going to put Missouri in a far better position should something happen."

The Washington meeting will come one day after senators outlined a bill providing $3.2 billion to combat bioterrorism.

The money would go for stockpiling vaccines and antibiotics, increasing food inspections, funding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and helping state and local governments plan for bioterrorism through block grants and new equipment.

"This broad legislation will give local, state and federal officials the resources they need to ensure the safety of the public," said Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo.

State health director Dempsey said she supports the legislation, which also includes a national Internet site on bioterrorism that Carnahan had proposed in a separate bill.

"This Internet clearinghouse will be a great resource to individuals, health-care professionals, law enforcement, educators and others about the risk and prevention of bioterrorism," Dempsey said.

Also Thursday, the first of six state regional meetings on homeland security and anti-terrorism preparedness for local officials was held in Columbia.

A separate 32-member security panel created by Holden is to meet for the first time Tuesday at Missouri National Guard headquarters near Jefferson City. The panel, named last week, is to study potential terrorist targets and recommend security improvements.

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