WASHINGTON– The commander of U.S. Northern Command yesterday urged closer collaboration between local and state agencies and groups that would be the first to respond to a disaster and the federal entities that stand ready to step in and assist when needed. Air Force Gen. Victor E. “Gene” Renuart, who also commands the North American Aerospace Defense Command, known as NORAD, told the Ready Communities Partnership’s 2008 symposium on community resiliency he’s impressed by the huge strides in disaster preparedness at the local, regional and state levels.

“The more a community is involved in planning for crises, … the less demand there is for federal support, be that military or federal agencies,” he told the group, a cross-section of city leaders, former governors and representatives of industry and private-sector groups.

Ninety-seven percent of the events Northcom and NORAD monitor each day are handled at the local or state level and don’t need a federal response, Renuart said.

“But we also have to be prepared,” he said, “because there will be a time when the size of the event is so big [and] happens so quickly that you have to have an integrated team of local and state and federal responders, both from the military and from our civilian first responders.”

So as local and state planners plan for the “what ifs,” and practice their responses to an attack or natural disaster, Northcom, NORAD and other federal organizations are ensuring they are prepared, too. “Our role is to ensure that when it is time to act, we are prepared,” Renuart said.

The general emphasized that the federal government has no interest in overstepping its bounds or legal authorities. Rather, he said, Northcom and NORAD want to work as partners with local and state entities and to back them up when needed.

“Everything we do in our command is a matter of teaming with others,” he told the group. “We don’t command or control any of our partners.”

Both NORAD and Northcom were born in the face of crises – NORAD in the Cold War, and Northcom after the 9/11 terror attacks, Renuart noted. Through their aerospace warning and defense, maritime warning and homeland defense missions, these commands are dedicated to preventing an attack on the U.S. homeland, he said.

“In today’s world, with today’s threats, we cannot afford not to pay attention,” he said.

These efforts, and partnerships formed among local, state, federal and nongovernmental entities, have paid big security dividends, he said.

“The measure of success is that it is quiet, at least for now,” Renuart said. “We can’t let our guard down, but it certainly is quiet today.”

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