April 8, 2002 - Orlando Star Sentinel: USA Freedom Corps and Homeland Security

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USA Freedom Corps and Homeland Security

Read and comment on this story from the Orlando Star Sentinel on the USA Freedom Corps and it's role in homeland security efforts at:

City shares defense role*

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City shares defense role

By Jon Steinman | Sentinel Staff Writer Posted April 8, 2002

To keep attention on homeland security as explosions continue to rip through the Middle East, President Bush will take a Knoxville, Tenn. stage today to tout one of his home-grown initiatives.

Alongside Bush will be Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood and 13 other leaders from across the country.

Hood and the mayors of Los Angeles, Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, among others slated to share the presidential podium, have begun forming local homeland security councils along a vision laid out in the president's State of the Union address earlier this year.

By taking on Bush's idea, the mayors will share the limelight with a popular president who, in the post-Sept. 11 world, has had to refocus on security and war issues in a way barely reflected during the 2000 presidential campaign.

The local councils, Citizen Corps Councils, aim to coordinate communications and build trust among local, state and federal officials in preparation for disaster. Most are still in their infancy. Only about 40 communities throughout the country have even committed to creating the councils; North Miami and Orlando are the only cities in Florida.

Central to the councils' existence is one key question: "What is the role of the citizen in homeland security efforts?" said John Bridgeland, head of USA Freedom Corps, a White House organization that runs outreach and volunteer efforts such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Bridgeland, a domestic-policy adviser in the White House, spoke Sunday with reporters in preparation for today's appearance by Bush in Tennessee.

Though each council will work to streamline communications among officials and between community leaders and citizens, each will be "unique locally," Bridgeland said. Who sits on the councils and what roles they will play will be determined by the councils.

But they are clearly meant to energize volunteers and communitywide efforts, such as the Community Emergency Response Teams, which Orlando was the first in the state to create, said Lindsey Kozberg, USA Freedom Corps communications director. These teams strive to prepare neighborhoods, workplaces and schools for a more active role in emergency-management planning.

Another idea, pioneered in Knoxville and adapted into Bush's volunteerism agenda, is the Volunteers in Police Services program. This seeks to recruit volunteers to help run the administrative elements of police work during emergencies, freeing trained law enforcement officers for duty in the field.

Citizen Corps Councils, the thinking goes, will lay a foundation for local and state leaders to coordinate their responses to natural disasters, health emergencies and terrorism. It is not by coincidence that the councils share more than a little in common with their 1950s -era counterpart: the Civil Defense program.

"We looked back in history," Bridgeland said, of the meetings spent creating the councils. Even if nothing happens to warrant action by the councils, it is better to be prepared than not, he said.

Hood could not be reached for comment Sunday.

For next year, Bush has already proposed $230 million to help get the councils off the ground but left open whether any money would be available this year. Bridgeland hinted that Bush may announce some cash this year for the program during Monday's event.

Jon Steinman can be reached at jsteinman@orlandosentinel.com or 407-650-6333.

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