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Homeland Security Involves Everyone, Speaker Says

Feb. 18, 2009 — When you say the words "homeland security," you almost automatically think of government forces defending against terrorism.
But that's only part of the story, according to David Silverberg, editor of Homeland Security Today and the keynote speaker Wednesday at the fourth annual Governor's Safety and Health Conference, held at the Carambola Resort. Silverberg, a respected Washington writer and editor with experience in defense, technology, congressional affairs and publication management, said homeland security is about much more. It's about everyone.
"'Homeland security' isn't just a department in Washington," Silverberg said. "Homeland security is a movement of every American to make the country — and really to make the civilized world — safer and more secure."
The conference was organized by the University of the Virgin Island's Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning Center, the V.I. Department of Labor's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, and the V.I. Office of Homeland Security. Its two days of workshops provide training for organizations in developing safety and health programs to protect the workforce. The approximately 100 people in attendance will receive certification showing they have completed the training.
The conference will be repeated Monday through Wednesday at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef on St. Thomas.
Silverberg said he liked this year's conference theme, "Keeping Paradise Safe and Secure: Together we can … Together we will," but said it didn't go quite far enough.
"Together we must," he said, "because we have no other choice."
Silverberg, who has been reporting on the nation's capital for more than two decades, gave an insider's overview of how the current Department of Homeland Security was created, starting with discussions after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center through the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina provided a turning point in the department's efforts. The government's response to that disaster wasn't just bad, he said — it was the worst government response in history.
The "terrible lessons of Katrina" led to major revisions of how the Federal Emergency Management Administration and its parent, the Department of Homeland Security, do business. The response to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 reflected the difference in preparation and training, he said, and showed that those lessons have been learned.
The Department of Homeland Security involves 22 different agencies and more than 180,000 people, the third-largest department of the federal government, in planning for and attempting to prevent both man-made attacks and natural disasters.
But the job of keeping America safe isn't just a matter of government planning for deterrence, preparation, response, recovery and restoration, Silverberg said: "Homeland security is each and every one of us."
In the Virgin Islands, homeland security includes planning for natural disasters and preparing to meet disturbances from places far away.
For instance, he said the ongoing war between the Mexican government and drug cartels has the potential to create trouble in the Caribbean, as drug traffickers seek new ways to get their product north to the United States and arms merchants seek to bring in weapons to aid in the struggle.
"The violence is spilling over the border into the United States," he said, and that means the people of the Virgin Islands, not just the territorial government, need to be on the alert.
The conference, which continues Thursday and Friday, provides training to keep worksites safe and ensure that the territory remains secure. The Governor's Safety and Health Conference provides an opportunity for the private and public sectors to come together and learn about developing effective programs to prevent workplace injury and illness, as well as keeping the borders secure.
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