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Area Still Unprepared for Terror Attacks, Senate Panel Is Told

"If you do it right, it's going to last," Thomas Lockwood, the DHS director for the capital region, says of reaching consensus on a preparedness plan. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

Thomas Lockwood, the DHS director for the capital region, said leaders are working hard to come up with a consensus plan. But he said the effort is hampered by fragmented authority among the region's 12 jurisdictions, two states and the District of Columbia, all three branches of the federal government, more than 2,000 nonprofit organizations and numerous regional business and civic groups. Nearly three dozen police departments operate in the District alone.

Lockwood said regional officials are making slow but steady progress on crafting the plan.

"The consensus process around the details takes much longer to do,'' he said, but "if you do it right, it's going to last.''

Lockwood and Reiskin, along with Robert P. Crouch, Virginia's preparedness director, and Dennis R. Schrader, Maryland's homeland security director, said much has been accomplished in recent months.

They said enhanced cooperation with military and aviation officials has dramatically improved responses to airspace incursions. Also, additional gear has been purchased so that firefighters in the region could continue functioning if their original gear became contaminated. In addition, the region has developed an area-wide electronic surveillance system for early detection of epidemics and a plan for dealing with large numbers of casualties.

Officials are working on a secure, compatible communication network that would link local officials in an emergency. There is also a cache of 1,250 compatible radios that could be distributed to Prince George's or other jurisdictions during an incident.

But a detailed strategic plan is still vital, experts said. The problems encountered during the Katrina disaster highlighted the need for detailed evacuation plans, especially when many jurisdictions and agencies are involved.

In testimony yesterday, William O. Jenkins Jr., director of homeland security issues for the Government Accountability Office, was asked whether local officials can really know whether they are adequately prepared without such a plan.

"In a word, no,'' he said.

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