WASHINGTON (AP) _ Governors should take the lead in coordinating security plans for states and local communities, and they'll get better information to help them do it, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says.
``I understand we have to do a better job of information sharing,'' Ridge told the National Governors Association at its winter meeting Sunday. ``I might as well bring this up before you do.''
Ridge said that in about two weeks, he will release details of a new national alert system that will provide more information about the seriousness of a threat. He has made references to the new alert system after people criticized the broader terrorist alerts that were issued.
Ridge acknowledged the difficulty posed by the general terrorist alerts. He said governors often have responded: ``You told us to be on alert. What do you think we've been on since September 11?''
``The broader goal will be that on those hopefully rare occasions when we get information that is of sufficient credibility and corroboration, we will be able to do an assessment and attach a certain level to it,'' Ridge said. ``Right now, you're either on alert or not on alert.''
Ridge said the system would give law enforcement and the public a better idea of what credibility professionals put on the threat. ``There will be times when it goes just to a state, a governor or a region, and there will be times when it will go national,'' he said. The alerts often become national news no matter the original plan, he added.
``We would hope and expect an enhanced level of preparedness would be the response,'' he said.
Ridge said it was crucial that governors coordinate security plans carefully with local authorities. A planned $3.5 billion fund to support emergency and medical personnel would be funneled through the states, with three-fourths of that money destined for cities and counties, he said.
Some mayors and local officials have said they want to work directly with the federal government, but Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania, said the plans and money should be funneled through the states.
The federal government will work to improve the tracking of people who come into the country and work for border security that allows the resumed flow of commerce while being more vigilant, Ridge said.
He noted that President Bush has proposed an additional $6 billion to bolster the nation's public health system. The money will be used to stockpile pharmaceutical drugs, enhance the capacity of laboratories and build up the public health system generally, Ridge said.
Bioterrorism poses a particular threat, said Donald Henderson, director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness.
Henderson noted the number of laboratories around the world that can make the anthrax bacteria, the continuing threat of smallpox, the availability of information on the Internet and the growing number of people with training in microbiology.
The federal government plans to send $1 billion to states quickly, with a portion available for immediate use, he said.