Ventura pitches state terrorism response plan

Mike Zacharias

Gov. Jesse Ventura unveiled his initiative at the Capitol on Thursday to improve Minnesota’s prevention and response to terrorism.

Communications and terrorism response equipment, as well as laboratories for detecting dangerous chemicals and biological agents need to be improved, Ventura said.

“We are fortunate in Minnesota,” he said. “We already have a strong system to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies. We now have the additional threats to be concerned with, so we must get extra prepared.”

His proposal would clarify law enforcement’s procedures for intercepting terrorist communications, make it more difficult to receive a Minnesota driver’s license without proper identification and facilitate information sharing within state agencies.

If a public health emergency occurs, Ventura wants an established chain of command to ensure a quick response and isolation of the problem.

“We must remember that the war on terrorism is a war, and we need to make it easier for authorities to act quickly in times of emergency,” Ventura said.

In the House Crime Prevention Committee, Republicans are drafting a similar bill. The difference between the two is not found in policies but in funding, said Rep. Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove and investigator for the Minneapolis Police Department.

“The governor put about $2 million – a little bit more – into public safety,” Stanek said, “and I think that is inadequate.”

Stanek, who co-authored the GOP bill, said his proposal spends about $25 million for public safety.

Stanek also said Ventura did not put enough funding toward communications improvements. First responders, such as police, fire fighters and ambulance crews, need better equipment to communicate with each other, he said.

John Dejung, president of the Minnesota Chapter of National Emergency Numbers Association and the Minnesota 911 director, said communication problems in state, county and city agencies currently exist.

“Many times fire personnel can’t talk to police personnel, can’t talk to ambulance personnel, even within the same city,” Dejung said.

Statewide 911 centers operate using technology from the ’80s and 90s. Outdated equipment impedes operators’ ability to track the location of a 911 call from a cellular phone, he said.

“If you had a cell phone right now, and you called 911, the 911 centers don’t know where you are at,” Dejung said.

New Federal Communications Commission requirements will force wireless carriers to supply information about cell phone locations, but without improved equipment in 911 centers, operators will be unable to find those locations, Dejung said.

Stanek said more needs to be done to prepare the state against terrorism.

While the military is fighting the war on terror overseas, the job of preventing terrorism at home rests on local law enforcement and first responders, he said.

“And you prevent (terrorism) through training and equipment and hopefully policies and laws that punish, should someone do it,” Stanek said.

Regardless of the attempts for prevention, Stanek saids terrorism will happen and the response to it should be quick and free of confusion.

“The only way to do that is by training and equipment,” Stanek said. “The governor’s proposal does not address any of that, and it’s disappointing to me.”

Mike Zacharias welcomes comments at [email protected]