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Homeland security begins on local level, Cal U speaker says

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Homeland security, while often viewed on a national scale, begins in the communities; and effective leadership is critical in responding to disasters, whether they are manmade — as in the case of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — or natural, such as Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast in August 2005.

The leadership made a difference when American Airlines Flight 77 was hijacked by terrorists and flown into a piece of the Pentagon, killing 189 people in the plane and on the ground, because “more people could have died” at the Pentagon without effective leaders, Richard J. Hughbank, managing editor of the Homeland Defense and Civil Support Journal, told more than 140 students and homeland security professionals Tuesday at California University of Pennsylvania.

Speaking at the seventh annual Conference on Homeland & International Security at Cal U, Hughbank said, however, there were administrative breakdowns in the responses to both the terrorists' attack at the Pentagon and to Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,200 people in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

When terrorists flew the plane into the Pentagon, officials had a difficulties in coordinating all of the agencies that responded to the emergency — state, county and local police, ambulance and fire departments, as well as the Department of Defense.

“They had a whole lot of people there, and it got ugly,” said Hughbank, a retired Army officer who is managing editor of the journal published by the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle.

With all of those agencies on the scene, the question arose as to who was in charge of emergency operations at such an unprecedented disaster.

“An assistant county fire chief was in charge. He was the first one to show up,” and set up an emergency operating center, Hughbank said.

The leadership of the emergency management agencies “did not plan for this” and did not conduct emergency exercises in response for such a disaster, said Hughbank, who teaches homeland security courses as an assistant professor at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. Furthermore, those agencies did not have any memorandum of understandings or memorandum of agreements to handle such a disaster, Hughbank said.

“What good is a policy if you don't execute it when everything goes south,” Hughbank said. In those cases, good leadership “must adapt to changes,” Hughbank said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's response to Hurricane Katrina, failed to quickly give permission from outside agencies to move into the disaster zones and provide assistance, Hughbank said.

Michael L. Hummel, professor of leadership and security studies at the Department of Justice, Law and Society at Cal U, said it was important for the students attending the conference on homeland security to see that it is important to integrate military assets into the civilian disaster management planning.

“Homeland security is hometown security,” Hummel said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or

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