Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas has a lot on his plate. In addition to tackling gang violence and cleaning up air quality in Southern California, Cardenas also worries about vulnerabilities related to United States ports - an issue he believes is equal to airport security but doesn't receive the same amount of attention.
Q: What are your concerns about port security?
A: Unfortunately Washington isn't responding appropriately with the kind of funding that we need post-9/11. When you think about the kinds of things that can be done through the ports - the size of the containers and the ability to put chemical agents in them - it could have an effect once it arrives at the port, or it can be put onto a truck undetected and then brought into any part of the country.
For example, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach intake more than 60 percent of all the containers coming into the U.S. The vulnerability there is tremendous, but the amount of funding given to ports is perhaps one small fraction of the funding given to airports. Unfortunately I think it has to do with Washington focusing on what they think the public wants - to feel safe in airports. We should fund the airports appropriately, but [Washington] ignores the fact that ports are equally, if not more, vulnerable to terrorist activity as our airports.
Q: What can be done to make the public aware of this vulnerability?
A: On a positive, proactive sense, we need to get Congress and the president to understand that they need to start focusing on that.
Unfortunately, the most effective way we would see the right kind of change would be an actual incident. I think reacting to an incident the way we reacted to 9/11 created the kind of energy and synergy for them to put funding into trying to see if we can fortify the safety within our airports. Until we have an incident at one of our ports U.S., only then are we going to see the kind of infusion at the proper levels. But hopefully we can have a positive dialog, with the right kind of attention and reaction from Washington, without having an incident.
Q: You've said that everything necessary to fulfill our preparedness needs is available, but resources are lacking. Can you elaborate?
A: We have technology that can scan an entire shipment container, which is a very, very big job. We have the technology that could give us the proper resources so every container eventually could be scanned to see what is inside, to determine if it's suspicious enough to open it up and do a more detailed search.
Those kinds of things can be done; it's kind of like an X-ray machine at an airport that they're starting to implement - they have the ability to X-ray an entire container today. But that costs a lot of money: tens of millions of dollars per port. You're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure so we could fortify all of our ports.
But when you think about the kind of effort that Washington is capable of, especially when you look at the war today and the amount of money they are spending every month, if we were to divert that kind of attention to our ports, we could have that done in just a short few years. So that's a perfect example of the technology that is already here, but the ports just don't have the resources to put it together by themselves.
Q: What other views do you have regarding emergency management?
A: When it comes to emergency management, I think that the magazine you have is a perfect forum for an intellectual conversation, a perfect forum where hopefully the right kind of policymakers would actually pick it up and read it.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, most politicians tend to look at the dailies; they tend to look at the New York Post, The Washington Post, The New York Times and the L.A. Times. ...
They look at those and say, "What is America talking about?" That's not necessarily the case when it comes to the more in-depth issues and responsibilities that we have as policymakers and as a country. So I think it's important for specific kinds of magazines like yours to hopefully have dialog, question-and-answer, and exposure to facts and truth. But they would have to pick that up and tell their staffers and say, "You know what? This seems very important." Unfortunately I think politicians in this country tend to react to the dailies.
Q: What would you want to convey to the policymakers and politicians who might read Emergency Management?
A: First of all, what we need to convey to them is the kind of vulnerabilities we have. For example, 9/11 occurred on the East Coast, in New York, and then a portion of it occurred in Washington, D.C. The fact of the matter is, if you look at the West Coast, the most vulnerable city is Los Angeles - perhaps even more vulnerable today than New York.
Thank goodness we didn't have an incident like we did in New York. What we need to do is expose the fact that those communities still need attention and focus. We shouldn't have to wait for an incident or tragedy where we lose 100 or 1,000 American lives in order for them to give the proper attention. Washington needs to help with fortifying us in protecting ourselves.
Also, when it comes to emergency operations, it's the actual command-and-control issues, the responsibility and responsiveness of the community when we have an incident such as that. It's one thing to prepare - that's always important. But at the same time, it's equally important for us to be fortified with the kind of communication and networking necessary when you have a situation where massive response is required.
Jessica Mulholland served as the Web editor of Government Technology magazine from October 2012 through September 2017. She worked for the Government Technology editorial team for nearly 10 years.
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