State Capital Bureau
JEFFERSON CITY - Improved communication between state agencies topped the list of priorities at the first meeting of the Missouri Security Council Tuesday.
Gov. Bob Holden said cooperation between state, local and regional agencies in the event of a disaster is "not there yet," but he said the Security Council will work toward that.
"All the criticism you hear about coordination at the federal level -- we cannot allow that to happen at the state level," said Holden, who chairs the council. "I know of areas in the state where moving from one jurisdiction to the next is almost impossible for communication."
Col. Roger Stottlemyre, superintendent of the State Highway Patrol, said it will be tough to get everyone together.
"There's always communication problems with other agencies and trying to get information to the public," Stottlemyre said. "You're always going to have confusion when you have disasters. But I think we're better prepared because of what we've learned."
Local agencies have been learning a lot through cooperative training programs offered by the State Emergency Management Agency, said Columbia's assistant fire chief, Brent Dometrorch. He said law enforcement and medical personnel have joined the fire department in training sessions ranging from weapons of mass destruction to public information. Dometrorch said the Security Council is a "good step in the right direction," though it has its work cut out.
"Just dealing with all of the agencies involved is a major task," Dometrorch said.
He said one of the training sessions focused on getting out a unified message in a time of crisis -- something Homeland Security adviser Tim Daniel said is of utmost importance.
"Anthrax was more of a scare than a real threat," Daniel said of incidents in the past year. "Fire and police were meeting themselves coming and going and basically responding to hysteria."
He said the council will seek to give the public coping skills and accurate information, enabling them to cooperate with government. However, the agencies represented on the council will have to work through the meaning of that pledge.
And Daniel said the purpose of the council is not to micromanage state departments.
"We won't tell you how to cook your eggs," Daniel told 12 department heads.
In addition to agency communication, the council discussed planning for emergency responders, intelligence sharing and interstate cooperation.
The Security Council is funded through a federal grant which requires it to hold at least four council meetings and four interstate meetings annually. Interstate meetings are designed to foster cooperation with Missouri's border states.
Most of Missouri's money for homeland security comes from federal sources. The state has appropriated $1.8 million for fiscal year 2003 while receiving $19.5 million in federal funds.