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Tom Ridge, Christine Todd Whitman, Ari Fleischer Hold Press Conference

Aired November 9, 2001 - 13:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We're slipping from the Pentagon briefing, where bottom-line is they are not confirming reports of progress on Mazar-e Sharif by the Northern Alliance. And we're moving to the White House. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.

We'll take part in today's briefing.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Last night I had the privilege to join the president of the United States in Atlanta, Georgia, for that extraordinary speech and that call to service to the American people.

I recalled the evening when the president introduced the Office of Homeland Security on September 20, and introduced the then-governor of Pennsylvania as assuming the responsibilities of that office.

The next day I proceeded to complete the final two weeks of my tenure as governor. And from the very first time I appeared in public, people came up to me and said, "Congratulations. What can I do to help?" And the phone started ringing that Friday morning in the governor's office, and it's been ringing ever since.

This morning the phone started ringing in the White House office: "What can we do to help?"

And I think last night the president very appropriately tapped into the extraordinary desire on the part of America to commit some part of themselves in some small way to enhance homeland security.

As we've been doing every day since I took over this position, of looking for ways to engage both the public and the private sector to help build this extraordinary support and build toward a national strategy to provide homeland security.

My own experience as governor, and I think Governor Whitman would probably share the same experience, we have several thousand volunteer fire departments. We've learned now that we view our firefighters as part of the homeland security team.

It's pretty clear that one of our outreach efforts might very well be in that public safety arena -- volunteer fire departments, law enforcement support and the like; public health, added on to public safety, and domestic preparedness in some fashion.

I've had the good fortune over the years of working with the incoming chairman of the National Ad Council. He and I -- David Doe (ph) and I have talked about a need to work with the National Ad Council to inform and inspire people to respond to this call to participate in this national homeland security effort.

So we, I think, over the past several years, if you ask governors and if you ask volunteer organizations, the desire, the willingness of America to participate has slowly eroded. People weren't volunteering, weren't as involved, as engaged in their community as they have been engaged before.

But I think, as of September 11, there is a renewed spirit of service, a renewed spirit of public service, a renewed willingness to become engaged in supporting and providing security for your community and your country.

So I look forward to the tasking of that challenge. There's an inventory of things we believe we can give America to choose from to help us in this battle against terrorism.

And I'm confident that, by the time we merge both public and private intellect and resources, we'll come up with an inventory of challenges as well as opportunities for America to answer their president's call.

Since September 11, in responding to our war on terrorism, every single member of the Cabinet, every single -- of the administration has been looking for ways in their individual capacities that they could enhance their ability to prevent an attack or detect an attack or respond, potentially, if an attack occurred.

And Governor Whitman's been at the forefront of those kinds of efforts during her leadership of the EPA and she's certainly intensified them and has intensified them from September 11 on.

So I'd like to turn the podium over to my friend and neighbor, former colleague, Governor Whitman.

Governor?

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: All right.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, EPA DIRECTOR: Thank you, Governor.

RIDGE: You're welcome.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Governor.

WHITMAN: I appreciate it.

As many of you know, since September 11, the Environmental Protection Agency has been very active in promoting the security of America's drinking water and waste waster systems and of chemical facilities across the country. In many ways, that's just a continuation of what our mission is, to protect America's health and environment. And so, this has just been an extension of what we do as a normal course of business.

But this effort has included a very real and aggressive outreach to the water companies, to the sewage treatment companies, to the chemical manufacturers, to give them the best possible advice and information on what they can do to secure their various facilities.

We've issued since September 11 a number of security and safety advisories for the operators of these facilities, giving them the best possible information that we have, so that they can apply it to their particular sets of circumstances.

And in addition, in cooperation with the FBI, we've advised every single law enforcement agency in the country on what they need to look for and steps that they can take to help prevent an attack on any way system or waste water system.

We've also greatly accelerated work that was already in process -- in the pipeline, as they say -- but in process, to enhance the security at water utilities to give them the tools they need to be able to do vulnerability assessments, and that was due to be available to them next year.

In fact, we have speeded that up, working with Sandia Labs. And these tools and training are beginning later this month. In fact, in the next week we will begin to provide the vulnerability training and the training for the personnel that is necessary.

We have also been working closely with the CDC and Department of Defense to ensure that we have the very best available science on how to identify and, if necessary, treat the contamination of the water supplies.

The good news here, if there is good news, is that it takes more than a teaspoon or a cupful of a biological or chemical agent to disrupt a water supply and to jeopardize or threaten the health of a municipality or city. In fact, it would be truckload -- it would take a truckload to do it.

And so, with the heightened security that we have with the local police forces and with the companies themselves, we feel that that kind of thing is highly unlikely.

We're doing everything we can to put in place the maximum amount of security measures that will ensure that people can be comfortable about their water systems.

The same is true with the chemical companies. We've been working very closely with their organizations and groups to ensure that we are in constant and instantaneous communications with them. When necessary, if there is any kind of warning or any kind of activity that we're seeing of which they need to be aware or they feel that we need to be aware, they will let us know. And that's been very important. On the water side, we've been working with the American Water Works Association and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, and on the chemical side it's been primarily with the American Chemical Council for the safety of all these facilities nationwide.

This close communication we've had really has helped in our ability to respond quickly and to enable them to respond quickly. We have also been working with both of those organizations to ensure that their major members are running their employee names against the FBI watch list database so they can be sure of who they have in place who have access to the water or access to the chemicals.

And so, really, what we're doing is, as I said before, an extension of what has been our role from the very beginning, but it is a very meaningful extension that should give a level of comfort to the public, that we are doing everything -- this government, this administration is doing everything possible to ensure that we have in place everything necessary to prevent and, if necessary, respond to any kind of further attack.

And we are actually feeling very comfortable, as far as water supplies are concerned, that it would be very difficult to carry out the kind of attack that could result in true health implications to a general population.

RIDGE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Governor Ridge, on Monday, another former governor, Montana's Marc Racicot, delivered to Homeland Security an assessment on energy security, security of the energy infrastructure.

Do you share the report's concerns that a significant part of the infrastructure is at unacceptable risk?

RIDGE: This administration, including Secretary of Energy Abraham, has been in discussions since September 11 with energy companies. And we share their concern that there are many points of vulnerability.

And this is, again, one more example where we need to work in a collaborative way with our friends in the private sector to assess different risk and come up with a long-term strategy to meet the enhanced security needs that this war on terror will require for us.

We got that 42-page report. Secretary Abraham has been working with them. And frankly, if I might, he'll join me some time next week. I mean, one of the reasons that we're going to ask members of the Cabinet to join with me from time to time is to alert you to the kinds of steps that have been undertaken since September 11.

And a lot of initiative, a lot of buildup, a lot of enhancement, a lot of communication with the private sector as well.

I mean, every day these departments and agencies are looking for ways...

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going interrupt Govern Ridge for a bit here. We'll keep an ear on that.

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