U.S. Mayor Article

Best Practices: Providence Mayor Leads Coordinated Effort on Homeland Security Preparedness

September 29, 2003


Providence Mayor Leads Coordinated Effort on Homeland Security Preparedness

They say you can never be fully prepared for emergencies, natural or otherwise, but the city of Providence is telling residents it is far more prepared today than it was just eight short months ago.

Since taking office, Mayor David N. Cicilline says he has shored up this city's emergency preparedness system, so the people of Providence "will be assured of their safety if the unthinkable should occur."

Earlier this month, the mayor had an opportunity to test the city's readiness. At 5:30 a.m., September 10, his senior leadership received an unexpected wake-up call. They were summoned to the city's Public Safety Complex, where they ran a drill of Providence's communication system. It is a drill that has happened before, and one the mayor's team has come to expect.

Our placement on the Washington-Boston corridor, our proximity to urban centers and the U.S. Naval War College, our deep-water ports and seaboard location, put Providence in a position "where we must be prepared," he said.

The push for improved local emergency preparedness began just after the mayor's general election win. In researching the city's capabilities, he discovered serious concerns — an absence of coordination among federal, state and local agencies — and a clear sense of what would happen should a natural disaster or terrorist attack occur, chief among them.

He immediately created a working group composed of the Director of Counter-Terrorism and Law Enforcement Initiative of the U.S. Attorney's Office, his chief of Policy, and a member of his Emergency Preparedness Office. Within a few short months, the city had developed a plan that would put this city on strong, and assure coordination with the state and federal agencies.

Not long after, Cicilline was named to the Conference of Mayors Homeland Security Task Force, headed by Baltimore Mayor Martin O-Malley.

"It is an enormous honor to be chosen to serve on this important Task Force, at a pivotal time in this nation's history," said Cicilline about his appointment. In the aftermath of September 11, the role of homeland security had become critical in ensuring the safety of our citizens—especially in urban cities susceptible to attack.

The mayor said it has been estimated that:

  • $2.6 billion was spent on added security in American cities from 9/11/01 until 12/31/02, (USCM)
  • Cities spend $70 million a week in direct costs whenever the threat is increased for police, fire, ENTs, overtime and planning (USCM)
  • And that former Senator Warren Rudman estimated it would take an additional $98 billion to meet the critical need for homeland security protection.
  • "Cities' support a secure nation but we are the front-line defense," Cicilline said. "What affects this nation usually happens first in our cities, not in the heartland."

    Since taking office Cicilline has taken a number of other steps such as:

  • Naming the Director of Counter-Terrorism and Law Enforcement Initiatives for the U.S. Attorney's Office, John Enright, as chair and Acting Director of the city's Office of Emergency Operations Center.
  • Creating an Emergency Operation Plan, a mobile Emergency Control Board and a stationary Emergency Operations Center in the event of a natural or terrorist event.
  • Having the city's senior leadership, department directors and key community leaders such as the Red Cross participate in a nearly-unique city -table-top- exercise at the U.S. Naval War College War Gaming Department.
  • Establishing a web site that will be unveiled next week, and provide the most up-to-date, user-friendly, preparedness information for every city resident.
  • Establishing a 10-city Metropolitan Medical Response System, so that pharmaceuticals such a Diazepam, Atropine and Doxycline can be securely stored and efficiently and promptly distributed in the event of a chemical attack, and so that first- and second- responders can be adequately prepared.
  • Begun planning for a first-ever Medical Emergency Distribution System that will put medication and antidotes into the hands of every Providence resident as needed, in an emergency.
  • Much of the funding for Providence's emergency preparedness system and plan has come through federal grant. Two grants totaling $600,000 have been awarded to the city's Office of Emergency Management, from the US Department of Health and Human Services, and half of the city's emergency management budget — $150,000 — comes from federal aid.

    "In this 21st Century, cities have assured a new, important and incredible burden in safeguarding their residents and their cities," said Cicilline. "I am pleased to say that this city — just two years after that tragic September day, and less than 8 months since I have taken office — has been able to form the many public safety issues we would have to deal with in an emergency situation."

    "It is a credit to the collaboration between and among public and private agencies and the strong leadership of this administration," he said. "It is all about leadership, preparation and cooperation."

    Cicilline, a member of the US Conference of Mayor's Homeland Security Task Force, says our exposure to the coastline, our situation between Boston and New York City and our expansive, deep seaport puts Providence at some risk but, "our preparation is the key to adequate and immediate response… and Providence is extraordinarily well prepared."

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