Having just returned from a national security summit for civic leaders in Washington D.C., Mayor Shirley Dean and several top-ranking city officials held a press conference Tuesday to discuss preparation strategies for possible terrorist attacks.
Joining Dean were Councilmember Miriam Hawley, Fire Chief Reginald Garcia, Police Capt. Bobby Miller and the city manager’s chief of staff, Arrietta Chakos.
“Many people haven’t realized this yet but local police, fire and health departments are going to be the first responders in this war,” Dean said. “That was the big pow (of the summit).”
Dean said the summit resulted in a National Action Plan to help communities across the country prioritize strategies for responding to local terrorist attacks.
One of the most serious issues facing cities is the cost of increased security measures. Dean said city economies around the country are strained because of an economic downturn, which has been accelerated by the Sept. 11 attacks. Cities will require federal assistance to help pay for added security measures such as police and fire training, protection of water supplies and emergency response equipment.
Dean said cities will have to lobby for the extra funds because so far the federal government has not allocated substantial funds for local agencies.
“Of the $10 billion federal anti-terrorism budget identified by the Office of Management and Budget, only 4.9 percent is allocated to state and local first response activities,” Dean said.
Berkeley does not have any obvious, high-profile terrorist targets such as the Bay Bridge or the Port of Oakland. But Dean said if there were terrorist attacks anywhere in the region, Berkeley’s financial contribution to mutual aid “could impact our budget seriously.”
Locally, Dean said Berkeley still needs to be alert because of a jet fuel pipeline that crosses the western part of the city. There are also many industries that store large quantities of hazardous materials near residential areas.
Garcia and Miller said there is currently no estimate on the cost of added shifts for police and fire personnel, nor other security measures, which have been implemented since Sept. 11.
“The city manager’s budget department has been keeping track and there should be a report soon,” Garcia said.
Miller said extra police costs to the city include a uniformed officer in the lobby of the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center as well as responding to 76 calls of suspicious letters or packages. Miller said 32 of those calls involved a suspicious substance or powder. He said none of the calls were determined to be serious.
Dean said the city’s Health and Human Services Department will also have to be trained and prepared to respond to large-scale biological or chemical attacks.
“Health is every bit as important in making our city safe as police and fire, so training for not just our Health Department employees but for our local medical personnel, emergency personnel and citizens is vital,” she said.
Dean said the city’s Community Emergency Response Training program, which already provides residents with fire and earthquake training, will be expanded.
“The public should also be educated in basic life saving techniques so that bystanders can provide assistance to those injured until help arrives,” Dean said. “Berkeley needs to step up its already impressive record in this regard.”
Another aspect of the National Action Plan is local economic security for workers who have been effected by the economic fallout of the terrorist attacks. According to the NAP, the fallout has most effected the travel, hotel and restaurant industries. “The result is that busboys, dishwashers, maids, cleaning people and baggage handlers are the first to go,” Dean said.
She went on to say that a proposed $60 million federal recovery package will not be adequate to help the unemployed because it relies too heavily on tax cuts.
The NAP calls for direct worker assistance including expansion and extension of unemployment insurance benefits, funding for job training programs, free or low-cost health insurance for low-income families and health insurance subsidies for unemployed workers.
On the home front, Dean said residents can prepare for a potential terrorist attack by storing seven days worth of food and water. Also it is important to be familiar with the addresses of neighbors who are disabled or elderly because they will likely be the first to need assistance in the event of an emergency.
“These are things we’ve been saying all along,” Dean said. “Now we’re just saying it with more urgency.”
For more information about the city’s Community Emergency Response Training call 644-8736 or visit the city’s Web site at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/fire/cert.html.