OV TAKES STEPS TO PROTECT HOMELAND - The Explorer: Import

OV TAKES STEPS TO PROTECT HOMELAND

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Posted: Wednesday, June 19, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

As a teen-ager during World War ll, Chuck Walton stood on the roof of his high school in New Jersey looking for enemy planes.

It was a time of special awareness, a time when you knew who the strangers in your neighborhood were, a time when people were more attuned to their surroundings and had a greater sense of any interruption in the everyday ebb and flow of neighborhood activities.

Now Walton, former president of the Sun City Vistoso Homeowners Association, is serving on an 11-member panel seeking to re-create at least a semblance of that awareness in Oro Valley to supplement the town's ability to cope with potential terrorist threats in the wake of Sept. 11.

"My biggest concern is that people become aware that something could happen here," especially considering the presence of a major air base at Davis-Monthan, Tucson's nearness to the Mexican border, the possibility of airborne contaminants being carried in on a jet stream from California, and the fragile nature of local water supplies, Walton said.

The panel Walton serves on is the Oro Valley Citizen Corps Council, which had its first meeting June 6.

The Oro Valley panel is an outgrowth of a collaborative citizen-led drive in Tucson and Pima County known as "Operation Safe Tucson," founded by Beth Walkup, wife of Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, and Christine Harvey. From that collaboration, the Regional Tucson Citizen Corps Council was formed to assist other communities in forming similar councils to raise the awareness of individuals, families and neighborhoods to the potential for terrorism and provide the training for a united response.

The efforts are being made in conjunction with President George Bush's goal to establish a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.

"We've got the ability to respond to disaster situations, but the question is could we be better prepared, could we use our resources better," said Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp. "Sure we could. I think that's what this council is all about."

The council's immediate tasks include updating assessments of potential terrorist targets in Oro Valley, figuring out what it will take to make those sites less a target and determining how those efforts will be funded.

The council's greatest emphasis is on attracting volunteers, but even before a campaign can begin to do that, the council and its member experts in the fields of law enforcement, health care, government administration and volunteerism must come up with a plan outlining what they expect volunteers to do.

"My concern is that we are in a position to accept volunteers prior to advertising for them," Sharp said. "It's a frontloading problem. We've got to have jobs for them. The worst thing you can do is to ask people to volunteer, have them show up and then have nothing for them to do," he said.

Putting the town in a position to do that and determining just how many volunteers will be needed means coming up with a program to bring volunteers in, conducting background checks on potential volunteers and developing training programs before they can be put to work.

"What Mayor (Paul) Loomis has done is bring in a group of people in various disciplines together with some management people, tactical people that understand all this," Sharp said. "Now he's saying let's take a look at all this, study all this and do things in a logical progression so we do it right and take care of the needs of the community."

By conducting background checks, Sharp said, you avoid exposing your weak spots and you also avoid having to deal with a flood of spontaneous volunteers, leading to situations such as the one which occurred recently in Webbers Falls, Okla., when a man claiming to be an Army Special Forces captain took over rescue efforts after the Interstate 40 bridge collapsed killing 14 people.

"If you have a group of volunteers screened, trained and ready, who you know how to reach and have established a dialogue with, it just gives you a great jump on things," he said, emphasizing the need to be able to maneuver quickly within a bureaucracy.

Ultimately, the idea is to have all of Oro Valley's residents serving as the eyes and ears of public safety, to be looking for potential terrorist targets and suspicious activity so that as an example, when a resident walks or drives by a water tank they're alert enough to it to notice if someone is tampering with the town's water supplies, Sharp said.

The Oro Valley Citizen Corps Council plan, said Mayor Loomis, who has asked the Town Council to approve $25,000 in seed money for the panel, is to complete a needs assessment, examine methods of disaster prevention and evaluate resources at the same time a volunteer outreach is being developed. Results could be shared with other councils.

Grant money could then be made available by the government agencies directly responsible for the five programs in which the Citizen Corps is involved, he said.

Those programs are: the Volunteers in Police Service Program, Neighborhood Watch, a Medical Reserve Corps, Community Emergency Response Teams and a Terrorist Information and Prevention System. Three would receive their funding from the Justice Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would fund the community emergency response teams and the Department of Health and Human Services would fund the Medical Reserve Corps.

"Public safety is not cheap and security is not convenient," Sharp noted. Bush's proposed Citizen Corps budget of $144 billion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 bears out that statement.

While that figure could change, the local Citizen Corps Council will have to set up oversight procedures to make sure money goes where it's intended once the process of applying for those funds is identified and tailor prevention programs specifically to Oro Valley's needs.

The application process remains a bit nebulous since some of the programs the Citizens Corps will be active in have not been officially approved at the federal level as yet.

"Washington operates from the top down, we operate from the bottom up and the two haven't met yet," said Dick Tracy, a former Chicago police captain, president of the Canada Hills Community Association and Citizen Corps councilmember.

Tracy said he didn't think he was in a position to defend the Citizen Corps proposals against those who contend health care and education should have a higher priority.

But, he said, "None of those programs would even matter if you don't have the resources to ward off terrorism. What sense would it make, for example, to have a school with a teacher for every 10 students and have the school blown up by terrorists."

Harvey, chairman of the Tucson Regional Citizen Corps Council, said the thrust of the nearly 60 similar councils nationally is to eliminate the bureaucratic levels as much as possible. The Tucson group, which was formed without any government seed money, has been recognized as a national leader and has been assisting other cities and towns in forming similar councils for the past several months, she said, adding that she's on the phone to the White House on the average of three times a week.

For now money matters are way down the road for the Oro Valley Citizen Corps Council, said Dr. Lew Brickler, the council's Medical Reserve Corps coordinator and physician recruiter. "This is a group that's still in its infancy."

For more information on the Regional Tucson Citizens Corps Council, visit www.tucsonccc.org.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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