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Homeland Security

Statement of The Honorable Mark Stenglein

Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs

""Investing in Homeland Security: Challenges Facing State and Local Governments""

May, 15 2003

United States Senate
Committee on Governmental Affairs
Susan M. Collins, Chairman
“Investing in Homeland Security:
Challenges Facing State and Local Governments.”

Testimony of
The Honorable Mark Stenglein
Hennepin County Board of Commissioners
Minneapolis, Minnesota
May 15, 2003

Thank you Chair Collins, Senator Lieberman, the two Senators from my home state, Senators Dayton and Coleman, and Members of the Committee. My name is Mark Stenglein and I am a County Commissioner from Hennepin County in Minnesota. Hennepin is the most populous county in Minnesota with over 1.1 million residents. Hennepin County is charged with helping to maintain the health, safety and welfare of one-quarter of the State’s population and I am honored to have the opportunity to testify before you today. I will also note that the National Organization of Counties has submitted testimony for the Congressional record. I’d also like to personally thank Senator Coleman for his invitation to testify this morning.

Since the attacks of September 11th, Hennepin County has been preparing for the day that everyone hopes will never come. We have begun the difficult task of assessing our current preparedness planning and assets. We have continued to seek cooperation and collaboration with other units of government. And finally, we have sought the resources necessary to achieve our goals.

First, I’d like to give you a brief summary of where we currently stand in our assessment and planning stages.

Hennepin County has assessed our vulnerabilities at all levels. We’ve upgraded our emergency preparedness plans, re-assessed our evacuation procedures for all county buildings. We’ve made structural improvements to “target harden” our facilities and infrastructure, and added additional security measures at our citizen service centers to enhance the safety of our employees and the public.

Hennepin County is the keeper of record for millions of Minnesotans. We issue everything from birth certificates to death certificates, passports and driver’s licenses. We must provide access for our citizens so they may conduct their business in a convenient and safe manner. County facilities that were once designed for easy public access must now be reconfigured. Security measures must be retrofitted to ensure safety for our employees and citizens – all while keeping the delicate balance between safety and service.

Another area of intense focus is our hospital. Hennepin County operates the Hennepin County Medical Center, known as HCMC. HCMC is the only public hospital in the metropolitan region and the only hospital in the downtown core with a Level I Trauma facility. When it comes to serving the citizens in a time of crisis – we are it. It is a tremendous responsibility that we take very seriously. That is why HCMC has been leading the smallpox vaccination program for area hospitals and is also the lead agency for biological and chemical decontamination units. We have also developed a mutual aid compact involving 22 hospitals in the metropolitan region.

Lastly, we’ve begun planning for continuity of government and the continuation of operations in the event of a tragedy. The continuity of government and the continuation of operations is essential. Clearly identified roles and responsibilities allow our first responders, emergency coordinators, and administrators to carry out emergency plans with precision and without hesitation.

Hennepin County has not focused all of its efforts internally; we have also sought to partner with the federal government, the State of Minnesota, neighboring counties, and municipalities. These partnerships define where we are headed in preparing for an emergency. One example of this cooperation was a joint venture with the City of Minneapolis on an emergency preparedness-training program, sponsored by FEMA, at Mount Weather, Virginia. City and County leaders, including myself, along with emergency personnel at all levels conducted training operations under differing scenarios. This hands-on approach to learning highlighted our strengths and outlined our weaknesses, providing us with a blueprint for improvement.

Our cooperation does not end there. The Hennepin County Sheriff continually meets with city police chiefs, state and federal law enforcement officials, emergency management planners, and other security first responders to share information. Firefighters meet with EMS personnel to discuss tactics and scenarios to ensure that emergency plans are developed consistent within all disciplines.

Another example of cooperation is the county-wide advisory group formed to recommend and prioritize how to best use scarce economic resources. Representatives from Police, Fire, EMS, Sheriff’s Office, Public Health Departments and the hospital meet to provide information and insight related to emergency preparedness planning. Each representative knows how her or his respective agency needs to respond in a moment of crisis. The challenges to respond in a crisis increases under the threat of terrorism or biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction.

Hennepin County has also partnered with local entities such as the Minneapolis Airports Commission and the Metropolitan Council on the preliminary design study of a secure cargo facility near our international airport. We believe that a consolidated regional distribution center for air cargo will streamline the security screening process of the thousands of tons of cargo leaving Hennepin County and Minnesota each year. This regional distribution center will also impact the local economy and maintain the balance between security and the economic impacts of delay.

Working together, we are able to share ideas and concerns. We’ve worked hard to identify and prioritize equipment and training needs. Most importantly, we’ve moved from an independent approach to a shared, regionally-centered approach. We’re breaking down many of the old barriers to cooperation. We’ve made tremendous progress in uniting behind best practices and ensuring that we’re doing all we can to protect and serve our residents.

Lastly, I’m going to talk about the kinds of help we need in order to be successful.

We need money.

We lack the training and equipment to prepare or respond to a radiological attack. A “dirty bomb” would have a devastating impact. We agree with the Hennepin County Sheriff that the concept of a regional law-enforcement response team may be necessary to effectively operate in hazardous or contaminated areas. Resources are required to coordinate such an endeavor.

More funding is needed for specialized equipment. There is virtually no capability in Hennepin County or the State of Minnesota for heavy urban search and rescue. It would take nearly 48-72 hours to call in such equipment. By then it may be too late.

We require funding so we can prepare, so we can plan, so we can train, so we can test ourselves, so we can assess and re-assess, and so we can repeat the process again until we’ve got it right.

Thus far, Hennepin County has received supplemental funding for the county and local communities to update plans for terrorism. We are currently utilizing a grant from the Department of Justice for first responder equipment. Resources have been slow to reach local governments and we are just now in the process of applying for the 2003 Homeland Security grant intended for equipment and exercises.

Hennepin County strongly supports the current formula of the Homeland Security Department, Office of Domestic Preparedness grant program. That formula requires 80% of the money awarded to states be directed to local units of government.

Hennepin County also believes that the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) program funding needs to be increased. This is the program that facilitates and coordinates emergency planning and exercises. EMPG funding is essential for all local emergency-planning programs. Local planners need the flexibility offered through the EMPG program.

We must keep in mind that disasters originate at the local level. Local responders are the first to arrive at a disaster scene. Those horrific first hours of 9/11 are etched in our memories forever; local responders bore the brunt of that horror.

Counties are willing participants in emergency preparedness. We pledge to work with all agencies on a national, state and regional level. Hennepin County is staffed with hard-working, dedicated individuals willing to do all they can to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. We ask that you help provide us the tools necessary to make that a reality.

Madame Chair, members of the Committee, I sincerely thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning.

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