Homeland Director Says Agency Plans For All Possibilities

Homeland Director Says Agency Plans For AllPossibilities

20 September 2005

published by ArizonaCapitol Times

Calling the Hurricane Katrina disaster “a giant wake-up call for Arizona,” Governor Napolitano has directed her disaster response team to update the state’s 464-page emergency plan. The work falls on Frank Navarette, director of the Arizona Office of Homeland Security and the Arizona Division of Emergency Management.

In the meantime, members of the Legislature’s government committees, which oversee Mr. Navarette’s agency, tell Arizona Capitol Times they haven’t seen the state’s emergency plans.

“Not many of us have been involved,” said Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R- 5, chairman of the House Government Reform and Finance Accountability Committee, “We ought to know, but we don’t.”

Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-30, the committee’s vice chair, said he asked to see the state’s Homeland Security plan before Katrina struck, “and I was told I could get a briefing from Frank Navarette and his people.”

Senate Government Committee member, Bill Brotherton, D-14, said he was not confident Arizona could avoid problems the Gulf Coast states are experiencing “in the sense I don’t have enough information to personally know” if Arizona’s emergency plans are adequate.

Senate Government Committee Chairman Jim Waring, R-7, who held hearings on Homeland Security matters Feb. 3, said he has “the utmost confidence in our National Guard and Major Gen. David Rataczak.”

In a Sept. 14 phone interview, Mr. Navarette said the plans were not distributed to legislators, but they may receive a briefing from his agency. The following are highlights of the interview.

Flooding, evacuees from other states, wildland fires, a nuclear accident, communicable diseases and terrorism are obviously scenarios your agency has considered in emergency planning. What other disasters or events should the state be prepared for?

There’s always the dirty bomb [a portable explosive device that would spread radioactive material] that we keep hearing about, and that is a whole different animal, for obvious reasons. We’ve done some scenarios, but, again, a disaster is a disaster, man-made or natural. It’s typically the same first responders that deal with those issues. You’ve got to have incident command; you’ve got to have the right call-up procedures, and it’s hard to differentiate between the two. The only difference is that the probability of having a natural disaster is much, much greater than a terrorist attack.

Would severe drought be one?

We’ve dealt with drought issues, but it’s been spotty within the state. It’s seasonal.

What kind of natural disaster has the best odds of occurring and the same question for an act of terror?

Let’s talk in terms of affecting the most population. I’d say a wildland fire. Flooding is spotty and you have a little bit of notice. Ah, terrorism… I don’t think I want to go there. We plan for all of it.

How much of a thin line do you have to walk as it regards the public’s “right to know” how well prepared we are and knowledge of where weak points might be in the system?

First of all, we could probably do a better job on knowledge to the citizenry on how well prepared we are. We need to work on that because we owe it to them. On our shortfalls or gaps, it depends on the nature of… for example, we’re finalizing our threat vulnerability assessment for critical infrastructure statewide. If you find gaps there and are shoring them up, I don’t think that’s something you want for public consumption because you don’t want the bad guys to know it either. You’re right about the fine line.

What is the status of the safety of our major dams?

Our analysis of our major dams leads me to believe they’re in good shape. Stop and think about it. What would it take to bring down a Hoover Dam?

An atom bomb?

Probably. You could do a 727 into the base of that thing. It’s incredible. Now, the risk to a dam is in the internal operational parts of it — the hydroelectric parts. The destruction of a dam — they’re pretty formidable.

President Bush says “Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government and to the extent the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility.” My question is: If the feds with all their money couldn’t do it right, how can Arizona or any other state perform better than all the manpower at the federal level?

You have to look at this from a number of ways. If you attack the problem initially in the right way, you minimize the dependence on the federal government. You’ve got to understand: It’s our responsibility first.

One of many criticisms of the Homeland Security is that too much money has been spent on anti-terrorism and not enough on natural disasters. What’s the ratio of money and time spent in Arizona on those two areas?

In terms of the money we have applied to our first-responders, I think there’s a good balance there. Our approach clearly is an all-hazard approach.

The governor said FEMA’s response was unacceptable and inexplicable. Do you agree?

I think it’s unacceptable, but again. I don’t want to just focus on that — it starts at home. By the time the feds got there, it wasn’t totally out of control, but there wasn’t a lot of control in place by the time they got there. They’re not there from day one, and you’ve got to plan for that.

I understand working with FEMA at the local level has gone fairly smoothly. How is it that Michael Brown’s poor performance didn’t translate downward?

It has translated out to the regions, and I don’t want to get into that. But our relationship with Region 9, which is our region, has always been good. It’s been transparent to us.

Should FEMA be pulled out of Homeland Security?

There’s been a lot of discussion about that. There’s been a lot of emotion leading people in that vein, but if you go through again another reorganization right around the time hurricane season is around the corner or upon us, I’m not sure it would be in the nation’s best interest. But that’s just my personal opinion.

Besides funding, what influence does the federal office of Homeland Security have on your agency?

There are a number of influences. There’s the exchange of intelligence. There is support when necessary. One thing I like about consolidating all that resource under [Homeland Security] Secretary [Michael] Chertoff — and this is something [former FEMA head] Michael Brown had available to him — is all this tremendous amount of resource. And I look at it as available to us as well.

Is the federal government shorting Arizona as far as Homeland Security funding you think is necessary?

Yes, and I want to qualify that. There is a case to be made for our proximity to the Mexican border. An incredible amount of social costs incurred along the border by the locals, both from a hospital point of view and a law enforcement point of view. There are critical infrastructure hazards in Mexico that you can see from Arizona that would have an impact on Arizona. Those kinds of issues should be taken into consideration as we allocate funds for homeland security for Arizona.

By Phil Riske


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