WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is getting support from former counterparts in his fight against terrorism.
Governors from both parties say Ridge, a former Pennsylvania governor, has the background to understand their needs in a post-terror attack world.
They are seeking federal help to get the training, the tools and the money to respond to terrorist attacks — and they want the freedom to use them since they will be on the front line if an attack occurs in their state.
"It's not a question of if, but a question of when the next terrorist attack will occur," Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said.
Some governors want communications coming out of the federal government to improve. New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen said Ridge is listening to the concerns of governors but the Federal government needs "to speak with one voice on critical security and public safety issues."
"I am hopeful that is the role that Governor Ridge will play — making sure we are getting the same message from the CDC, Health and Human Services, the White House, the FBI and any other agencies involved," Shaheen said.
In particular, Republican governors, who met in Washington Thursday to show their support for the president's national security plan, said they want more coordination between the federal government and states.
Among the tools they are seeking are better communications systems, better training and equipment to handle bioterrorism, and a plan for developing and distributing vaccines.
Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who heads an anti-terror task force that recommended the creation of Ridge's position, said a national laboratory for vaccines is needed.
Washington Gov. Gary Locke and Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating are both seeking better communication between state and federal authorities, including the sharing of intelligence.
And Connecticut Gov. John Rowland said he wants the government to help develop better communications systems within the states.
"We've got great radio communications with our state police. We want that radio communication with local law enforcement, firefighters, rescue workers," Rowland said, admitting that it "costs a lot of money,"
The governors acknowledge they don't have money in their state budgets for many of the essential security tasks that have to be done this year.
"I'm not here with my hat in hand asking for money," said Colorado Gov. Bill Owens. "But I am here to accept any help that they're willing to offer."
Locke said Congress should provide enough money "so that every state can achieve at least a baseline level of emergency preparedness and security."
Owens said Coloradans need to have confidence in the safety of air transportation and the mail they receive.
"These have a ripple effect across the economy," he said.
The development of a coordinated homeland defense system must be set up quickly because no one knows when a terrorist attack may occur. But Gilmore and others said the development of the federal-state relationship will take time.
"This is going to be a long process," said Gilmore. "It will take just as long domestically as it does overseas."
"We need a recognition that the first and best response is state and local — do not federalize the response," Keating said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.