NORTHPORT, Maine — Maine has met many of its homeland security objectives in the years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but additional strategic planning is needed as funding from the federal government continues to diminish.
That was the overall reality being considered by the various federal, state, county and local members of the Maine State Homeland Security Strategy Working Group that gathered for a two-day meeting at Point Lookout beginning Wednesday.
The group was brought together to work on updating the state’s strategic plan, which they developed seven years ago and updated in 2005, as well as to discuss ways to meet those goals in a shifting economic climate.
Many of the sessions involved sensitive matters, but officials attending the meeting took time Wednesday to discuss some of the issues with members of the media.
Maine National Guard Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, the state’s adjutant general and head of the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans Services and Emergency Management, said the meeting would give the participants an opportunity to “review where we have been, where we are currently at, and what the road ahead looks like.”
Libby said the state had already reached its goals of developing increased regional capability in communications and response in the event of a chemical, biological or radiological event. He said Maine has a 22-member civilian support team working on emergency management issues and has established 10 emergency response teams that are constantly training with state and local agencies.
Libby said the Sept. 11 attacks created some “strange bedfellows, if you will,” by bringing together federal, state, county and local police agencies that in the past did not always work together as they do now. Those improved working conditions have resulted in dramatically improved sharing of intelligence.
“It was an intelligence failure, one could argue, that was the cause of 9-11,” Libby said. “Much of that has been eliminated with better intelligence sharing between the states and the feds and between the federal agencies themselves.”
Libby said that because the state’s National Guard and emergency management are overseen by the same department, the two agencies have always worked closely together. Until Sept. 11, however, all of their planning centered on natural disasters. That focus has been expanded to
man-made disasters as well, he said. State and local agencies have conducted drills for years and will take part in a national vigilance exercise next year.
“Are we better prepared than we were on 9-11? Absolutely,” he said. “We’re better prepared to respond to and we’re better prepared to recover from a terrorist event.”
Libby said the difficulty will be to continue those activities as funding from the federal government slows. He said it’s natural for the government to shift its resources in other areas and it’s up to planners to decide where to focus those shrinking resources.
“I don’t find that unusual as the nation responds to other priorities,” Libby said of the decline in funding. “But that has certainly limited our ability to do the things we have on our to-do list as well as limiting the resources to get them done.”
Bill DeLong, director of the homeland security division of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said the state received more than $85 million in homeland security grants in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. That figure dropped to about $20 million in the last federal fiscal year.
“There’s still risk, there’s still vulnerability,” DeLong said. “We look at what the risk is and how you drive down the risk with a reduced amount of resources. Being smart about how we spend the money is absolutely critical, which is why having an updated strategy is so critical.”