Tom Trice

Keeping one eye on security issues

Tom Trice
APWA President

I can recall little else that has captured our attention more than Homeland Security and Emergency Management have during the past three years. Reflecting that interest, the January issue of the APWA Reporter will be dedicated to this critical topic. After many years of staying in the shadows and working quietly to provide lifeline services to our communities, we in public works find ourselves thrust into a greater role of prominence whether we are ready for it or not.

Public works professionals across North America have been working hard to secure their communities following September 11, 2001. Our water utilities have developed their Vulnerability Assessments and are completing their Emergency Response Plans, and inspections have been increased at bridges and other vital links in our transportation and communication systems. Public works, transit garages and other facilities are undergoing security and access control improvements. And frequently this has been accomplished without additional funding.

Those of us in public works find ourselves having to keep one eye on security issues while continuing to provide community services to our customers. These concerns are reaching into every aspect of what we do and often in ways we never imagined. A few years ago we never would have been concerned about someone hijacking a garbage truck or transit bus for other than a joyride—now we worry about them being used as a weapons delivery system. The thought of having our landfills contaminated intentionally, or our communication lines sabotaged, never crossed our minds. Today we spend sleepless hours considering these and other possibilities.

For the past three years we have been adapting our message and increasing awareness of our profession in order to receive the necessary funding and training to meet these changing roles. A major breakthrough came with the formal recognition of public works as a first responder in the language of Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-8:

"The term 'first responder' refers to those individuals who in the early stages of an incident are responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence, and the environment, including emergency response providers as defined in section 2 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 101), as well as emergency management, public health, clinical care, public works, and other skilled support personnel (such as equipment operators) that provide immediate support services during prevention, response, and recovery operations."

With this recognition came an increased role at the national level. APWA has been actively advocating for the needs of public works by addressing Congress, federal agencies, and regulatory bodies. Our work is beginning to pay off. During the past two years APWA has represented the public works perspective on numerous national and federal committees and task forces. Through the efforts of the Emergency Management Technical Committee, our Government Affairs staff in Washington, and many concerned APWA members, we are participating in the writing of rules and guidelines by which we will be responding to future emergencies. From the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System to the Resource Typing Initiative, APWA is working to ensure that those making the rules understand our needs, concerns and issues.

Currently APWA is working on a project to identify the benchmarks to be used in evaluating a community's emergency preparedness, and on two committees that are establishing credentialing and certification and training guidelines for public works disaster response personnel. Our presence will give a voice to those drafting and recommending these limits. In this way the regulations being written will reflect the actual working conditions we face by people who know what we do.

We have come a long way, but there is much that remains to be accomplished. The public works community continues to have a shortage of funding to adequately harden facilities, equip our personnel, and have access to the critical training that public works departments must have to safeguard our communities. While the Department of Homeland Security recognizes public works as first responders, many other responder groups do not, and many state and local officials do not have an understanding of public works. It is the responsibility of each of us to ensure that appropriate local and state officials are educated about the role and the needs of public works professionals in their jurisdiction. We must become more involved with the emergency management community in our cities, counties and states, from where the funding flows.

Public works needs to make some noise and let these officials know who we are and what we do. It has to start at the local level and move forward. We have always been the invisible first responder at the scene of many emergencies. It is not the public works director that is being interviewed by the local news at the scenes of the incidents and that needs to change. To make this change it is up to us—no one else is going to do it for us. I challenge you to step up and be a part of the solution to local officials recognizing public works professionals for what they are.

This month's APWA Reporter gives voice to many issues that you need to be aware of in this ever-changing situation. While one issue cannot address all the concerns or questions you have, I hope that you find this month's issue useful in providing information and stimulating your thoughts.

I would like to thank Brian Usher, Chair of the Emergency Management Committee, and Karen Bloodworth, Kristina Tanasichuk and Kevin Clark of the APWA staff for contributing to this article.