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Our safety and America's courage

By Frances Townsend, CNN Contributor
  • Fran Townsend: 9/11 changed our view of the risks to America
  • She says in some areas, safety has been strengthened
  • In others, Townsend says, problems still remain 10 years after the attacks
  • Townsend: Al Qaeda remains a threat, and America remains a nation of courage

Editor's note: Frances Fragos Townsend, a CNN contributor on national security issues, served as President George W. Bush's chief anti-terrorism and homeland security adviser. Townsend is a partner in the law firm of Baker Botts LLP and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is a member of the external advisory boards for the Department of Homeland Security and the Central Intelligence Agency.

(CNN) -- Ten years after the 9/11 tragedy, the world is a much different place.

Mobile communication devices are ubiquitous. In fact, most of us (myself included) carry two or three. Security measures surround us not only at airports but also in other venues -- now there are canine patrols on trains and bag searches at sports arenas and rock concerts. Now if we see something, we know to say something. And, for a time, red, orange and yellow were no longer just colors but were also threat levels.

While these things are different and better, other things have unfortunately remained the same. First responders still cannot communicate with each other in a crisis because they lack sufficient radio bandwidth. Without that bandwidth, first responders cannot maximize their chances of saving others, and they are themselves at greater risk of injury and, as we saw on 9/11, death. There is a bill before Congress that could solve this problem, and let's hope it will not take another tragedy to get the bill passed.

Federal agencies might have been able to stop the attempted terror attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the "underwear bomber," on Christmas Day 2009. But just as in the days before 9/11, agencies failed to share critical information. Though the technology exists to help solve this problem, it requires effort and leadership every day. But this issue fails to get the attention it requires because no one gets political credit for solving a problem that most Americans believe should not be a problem.

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Partisan politics remains a concern. For a brief moment after 9/11 there was bipartisanship on national security issues. In 2001 Congress passed the Patriot Act and in 2004 Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

More needs to be done, but politicians, campaigns and political parties would need to care more about keeping the country safe and less about getting re-elected.

Americans are rightly proud of their country when it successfully targets Osama Bin Laden, responds to a natural disaster or prevents a terror attack. But long-term security in our country and our communities depends heavily on resilience and individual citizens taking responsibility for their own preparedness. The American Red Cross and the Department of Homeland Security have great preparedness programs but more Americans need to participate in them and educate themselves.

As we reflect on the past decade and remember those we lost, two important facts remain the same. Al Qaeda, though weakened, remains a threat, and the victims we lost on that clear autumn morning are gone forever.

The passengers on Flight 93 acted on 9/11 and they ensured that their plane went down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and not where the terrorists intended it.

That is the legacy of 9/11. Courageous Americans will act to protect themselves, their families, their communities and their country.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frances Townsend.

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