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Public Statements

Hearing of House Committee on Homeland Security - Challenge of Protecting Mass Gatherings in a Post-9/11 World

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

REP. PETER T. KING (R-NY): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And thank you for holding this hearing. Obviously, mass gatherings -- a matter of great concern always but certainly since September 11th. And I want to commend the department for what it's done through the NIPP to try to address this because this is primarily a local and state and private matter. But on the other hand, it does need cooperation and assistance from the Department of Homeland Security, and I think that the NIPP goes a long way toward addressing that.

But, again, this is a matter of great concern. I know certainly in New York we've had -- for instance, in 2004 we had the U.S. Tennis Open, we had the Republican National Convention, and we had the Yankees all playing on the same night. And there's any number of events like that, such as New Year's Eve, such as when the U.N. General Assembly is held, and often there's a federal and a local component. You may have the U.N. General Assembly and you have the Yankees or the Mets playing at the same time.

So this is something -- obviously it is of great importance in the post-9/11 era. It to me shows the absolute necessity of having cooperation at all levels, with significant input from the federal government with the concept being that the locals know it better than anyone, and certainly the federal government can provide whatever intelligence or perhaps coordination is needed, but it is primarily a local responsibility, and also the importance of layered defenses because there is no silver bullet that's going to provide the type of blanket coverage that we may like. For instance, a key component -- I know New York has been in the Secure the Cities program, which has been pushed very much by the department, which basically is intended to protect the city from radioactive devices being brought in as a first line of defense.

So all in all, Mr. Chairman, I think this hearing is vital. It's important. This whole issue is important. I think the department has taken very significant first steps. I commend them for what they've done. Obviously, more needs to be done. More needs to be done at all levels, and we have to continue to work toward that.

And, Mr. Chairman, no opening statement by me would be complete without my once again stating what I believe is the absolute necessity of us having an authorization bill this year and having hearings on it and going forward, both for the purpose of the Department of Homeland Security, for the Committee on Homeland Security, and also so we can establish the benchmark that I think has to be set by this committee if we're going to be a successful committee.

And with that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

REP. KING: Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

Colonel, Admiral, I want to thank you for your testimony.

Secretary Stephan, we're wondering what you've learned over the last several years  and Congressman Lungren made this clear during the whole port security debate, about the importance of layers of defense and levels of cooperation in trying to stop the enemy from getting here -- as you look back over the last several years with what you've tried to do with mass gatherings, what has struck you as being the most successful part of your program, and as we look to a new administration, what do you feel has to be done over the next several years to strengthen our position? I'm not asking you to give away any weaknesses, but, I mean, what particular areas would you recommend that the next administration focus on when it comes to mass gatherings?

MR. STEPHAN: Sir, some of the most important progress we've achieved, again, lies in the area of the massive boots-on-the-ground interaction we have now at these local venue levels. But I think we've also set up a framework with the leadership at the state and local level as well as within the private sector venue owner and operator community. We've provided a risk assessment, vulnerability assessment methodologies. We focus, based upon risk, on actually conducting physical and cyber on-site assessments of these different facilities. We've provided them massive amounts of training to both security guys at the venues themselves as well as within state and local law enforcement jurisdictions that have responsibility in some way, shape or form for securing these venues. We've attempted to target grant money specifically to capabilities gaps that have been identified in collaborative security plans. So I think the planning framework, the training framework, the exercise framework is there.

The challenge for the remainder of this administration and the next administration is to try to figure out to stretch the dollars, the federal grant dollars, and the support, to the extent that you can, so you can make sure that no important things fall through the cracks. And, as Admiral Rufe pointed out, it's impossible for us to be everywhere, nor is it really our responsibility as the federal government to be everywhere. But we do need to continue the pace of the interaction in providing the framework, the tools, the methodologies, the planning templates for security and mass evacuation, so on and so forth, that we've established. So we just need to push that kind of activity further, further, further down, down the bean trail, and hopefully at some point in time a train the trainer concept will kick in, and for every dollar I spend, state and local officials and the private sector, most importantly, will be spending ($)10, ($)100 or $1,000 based upon the models and templates we've provided.

REP. KING: Do you find that local officials are cooperative? I mean, for instance, is it a difference between doing a New Year's Eve event in Manhattan and doing the Mule Day event in Tennessee? I mean, do you feel that your department is able to cope with different parts of the country and adapt to different situations?

MR. STEPHAN: Sir, the one thing I've learned is every jurisdiction is different from every other jurisdiction across the country, and I think the places where we have probably the most challenge is where a certain number of scarce resources are distributed across different law enforcement and emergency management jurisdictions, and getting everybody to acknowledge that they need to be part of a collective plan instead of all individually trying to own a shiny new fire truck and a SWAT team capability and sexy night vision goggle equipment. Not everybody needs all of that. We need to have a collaborative plan, multijurisdictional in nature, for these specific areas we can carve out and define across the United States and have people support their part of the plan, be trained, organized and equipped to do that. I think that's one of the most significant challenges we face.

REP. KING: Thank you. Admiral Rufe, with the DHS information network that you have that provides intelligence information, how do you screen who's going to get that? What are the precautions that are taken as to who's going to receive that, and at what level are they getting it?

MR. RUFE: Yes, sir. In fact, I was going to add to what you just asked Assistant Secretary Stephan. One of the improvements I think we have made in this area is in that information sharing piece. For each one of these SEAR Level 1 and 2 events, we do a joint special event threat assessment which is done by the intelligence professionals in the interagency, and that's shared, obviously, with the people that need to have it at the local events for which the threat assessment is made.

In addition to that, I think a great step forward has been our state and local fusion centers, because any actionable intelligence that is going to affect the local community is pushed forward as soon as we have it to the state and local fusion centers to ensure it gets distributed adequately to anybody who needs to have access to it.

REP. KING: Thank you for your testimony.


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