The United States Conference of Mayors: Celebrating 75 Years

Mayors to Seek Domestic Counter-Terrorism Training

By Sharon Oxley

At the February Key West Leadership Meeting, Conference President Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini called for a meeting with Attorney General Janet Reno to discuss how the needs of cities are to be addressed in the new five-year counter-terrorism plan being prepared by the Department of Justice.

Mayors heard from terrorism experts and discussed their needs as first responders to terrorist incidents. Dr. Kem Bennet and Chief Rick Tye of Texas Engineering Extension Services at Texas A&M, Dr. Kathleen Robertson, of KPMG, LLP and Ed Driscoll of Delex Systems, Inc. briefed mayors on how federal funding is currently allocated, the training gaps at the local level and discussed ways in which those gaps might be closed. There was also discussion on the significant differences between traditional emergencies, such as natural disasters, and terrorist attacks.

The FY 2000 budget includes funding for training and equipment, research and development, protection of federal government facilities, medicine and vaccine development. 157 cities have been selected to receive training.

Mayor Corradini introduced the discussion by calling on mayors to explain what they are doing to train and prepare for an incident in their community and what their current needs are. A number of mayors indicated that they had been through some training and received funding to purchase equipment. Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said that when the Murrah Building was bombed in Oklahoma City, all mayors envisioned themselves in that position and began to realize the short-comings in emergency preparedness plans when it comes to terrorist incidents.

Webb, along with Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, strongly supported the development of training programs for mayors and the need for funding to go directly to cities rather than through the states. Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr said that the training should also teach cities how to assess their vulnerabilities and implement inexpensive, easy fixes.

The issues of communications and panic control during a crisis were also discussed. Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins said that mayors need to be trained on effective communications and media strategies under panic circumstances. Dr. Robertson noted that one of the difficulties with these incidents is determining when it is over because many attacks have secondary devices and additional terrorist acts following the first.

North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hayes raised the issue of liability for city-owned property in the event of a terrorist incident. He said that he checked with the insurance carrier for his hydro-electric facility who confirmed that a terrorist event at the facility would not be covered. Dr. Robertson confirmed saying that there is currently no liability protection and no solutions identified to date but that it is an issue the federal government is currently grappling with.

Waco Mayor Michael Morrison indicated that Waco was not one of the cities selected for training and that he would support an approach that would include regional training so that the needs of smaller communities would be addressed. He also said that he learned a great deal through his experience with the Branch Davidians and that it is important to find a mechanism that would allow federal agencies to share intelligence data with local emergency responders.