Oct. 22, 2001 — As Congress readies homeland security legislation, Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christensen met Monday with Gov. Charles Turnbull to gauge the territorys preparedness for terrorist attacks.
The federal government has been studying the need for homeland defenses since 1998 with the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, but the events of Sept. 11 brought the issue to the forefront. Following those attacks, President Bush nominated Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to head the National Homeland Security Agency.
On Monday, Turnbull briefed Christensen on what a Government House release called the territorys "Homeland Security Task Force."
The new federal entity would integrate the combined defense-related efforts of, among other agencies, the Coast Guard, Customs, Border Patrol and FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Government House release didnt say what agencies comprise the local task force.
At a Senate hearing Monday, V.I. Police Commissioner Franz Christian said the federal homeland security efforts would likely be linked to the territory through the V.I. National Guard.
Christiansen said she requested Mondays meeting with Turnbull so she can lobby for the territorys needs when federal funds become available for homeland security. She said legislation to fund homeland security is still being worked out in Congress.
"Its so important at this time as Congress is considering bills and funding to improve homeland security … that I be fully aware of what the Virgin Islands needs are," Christensen said.
According to the Government House release, unnamed officials briefed the delegate and governor on funds available through the Law Enforcement Planning Commission "for the development of a strategic anti-terrorism plan and the purchase of vitally needed equipment to upgrade the capability of several law enforcement and medical responder agencies to address terrorist threats against the territory."
While the "represented agencies expressed confidence they were in relatively good shape to address biochemical emergencies, they expressed the need for additional training and the accompanying equipment," the release said.
Christensen said the territory needs to be included in any federal security effort.
"We have several areas of vulnerability that apply to the nations security," she said, apparently referring in part to the giant Hovensa oil refinery on St. Croix. "We want to make sure these are looked at and included in any planning."
Christensen noted that the local governments response to recent threats and anthrax hoaxes has been "very good — certainly not any worse than many communities around the states. And maybe better than many."