Coordinator has power to act in emergency

Friday, February 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Creation of a state cabinet-level homeland security coordinator to be in charge during an emergency was among the recommendations of the Joint Homeland Security Task Force in a report issued Thursday.

The panel, headed by Ken Levit, president of the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, also recommended:

_ Development of a comprehensive communications system for law enforcement and other agencies that respond to emergencies, such as a proposed $52 million system that has been on the shelf for years.

_ Enactment of new laws to fight terrorism.

_ Increased security to protect state information systems from cyberterrorism.

_ Enhancement of state intelligence gathering capabilities.

_ Improved monitoring of foreign national students by assisting federal authorities who enforce visa requirements.

_ Implementing risk management surveys and improved security at colleges and other schools that perform sensitive activities such as flight training or instruction on chemical storage.

_ Funding of digital drivers' license program.

_ Granting emergency health powers to the governor and others that could be used to protect the public in an emergency.

_ Better security at the state Capitol Building.

_ Providing emergency powers to the governor and health authorities to act in an emergency.

_ Requiring periodic assestments of the safety of agriculture, ranching and food safety facilities.

_ Making minor modifications of the State Open Records and Open Meetings Act to exempt intelligence information tied to terrorist threats or vulnerability to attack.

Levit said the idea of a homeland security czar heading a stand-alone agency was rejected. But task force members were insistent that someone had to be in charge.

As a result, he said, members propose legislation that could result in removal from office of agency heads who do not cooperate with the security coordinator.

``There comes a time when someone needs to be a czar,'' said Rep. Bill Paulk, D-Oklahoma City.

The homeland security chief would be appointed to a six-year term by the governor from a slate of nominees picked by a legislative nominating commission.

That would be an effort, the report said, to ``insulate the position from politics to a great extent and to ensure that the state can recruit an outstanding individual to fulfill this role.''

Dennis J. Reimer, retired Army general and a member of the task force, said he did not foresee a problem of non-cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

He said Oklahoma is ahead of other states in coming to grips with the reality of terrorism because of the 1995 federal building bombing that killed 168 in Oklahoma City.

But Reimer, who heads the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, said there is much to be done to protect the state in the light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

The task force's recommendations were forwarded to Gov. Frank Keating and legislative leaders for consideration during the 2002 legislative session, which starts Monday.

Levit said while there are no guarantees that Oklahoma will not be hit by terrorism in the future, ``we can implement protective measures that might decrease the likelihood of such a tragic event.''