Democrats' Radio Response

The following is a transcript of the Democrats radio response to President Bush's weekly radio address:

Good morning. I'm Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Four years ago, our nation watched in horror as terrorists struck the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and crashed an airplane in a Pennsylvania field after their objective was thwarted by the brave passengers on board. That week, America stopped. We mourned, wept, and prayed for friends, family, and strangers whose lives were turned upside down by those catastrophes. And we swore that America would be prepared next time a tragedy of such magnitude struck.

Today, we find ourselves mourning, weeping, and praying yet again. This time for our friends, family, and strangers in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and my home state of Mississippi. And like that day four Septembers ago, we once again find ourselves asking, 'How could this have happened?'

The answer is painful, but it must be acknowledged: we simply were unprepared.

Our nation will survive and its citizens will rebuild New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport, Mobile, and countless other towns scattered along the Gulf Coast. As we rebuild, I want our nation to be what many of us hoped for after 9/11 - a nation, standing together, ready and able to respond to threats against it, whether from man or Mother Nature. To do so, however, we must take real and meaningful steps to protect our nation's security.

I have heard too many stories of police, firefighters, and EMTs who were overwhelmed last week because they did not have the tools and the resources necessary to do their jobs. We must give our first responders on the local and state levels what they need to prepare and respond to events.

Just as in New York on September 11, 2001, first responders along the Gulf Coast were unable to communicate with one another as they conducted search, rescue, and recovery efforts. How can the men and women risking their lives on the front line protect our nation if they can't even talk to one another?

This year, Republicans in Congress cut first responder homeland security programs by $604 million, and an additional cut of $1.1 billion was requested by the President for fiscal year 2006. This is funding for resources on the local level to defend our families, protect our communities, and respond during times of crisis. Diminishing the ability of our sheriffs, police, firefighters, and all first responders to get the job done is simply unacceptable.

And not only must first responders be able to communicate with one another, but citizens must be prepared. September 1 marked the beginning of National Preparedness Month - a joint Department of Homeland Security and American Red Cross initiative. The situation in New Orleans showed us that citizens need more than 'a kit, a plan, information, and involvement' to prepare themselves for disasters and attacks.

We need a real citizen preparedness plan - one that takes care of children, the elderly, and the disabled. Mothers and grandmothers should not drown in nursing homes because help never arrived.

Our critical infrastructure - our pipelines, refineries, dams, electrical grids, water supply, and chemical plants - must be adequately protected. The failure of the levees in New Orleans shows us how vulnerable our nation's critical infrastructure is. Had it been a terrorist bomb at the levee that caused the breech instead of a hurricane, the result in that city would have been the same.

When the power went out in Louisiana and Mississippi last week, the Colonial and Plantation pipelines were rendered inoperable. Much of the gas and oil supply of the East Coast was stopped. Gas prices rose anywhere from 40 cents to over a dollar across the nation. If an electrical outage could wreak so much havoc on our gas supply, imagine what a well-planned terrorist attack could do.

If we are not prepared, we cannot respond properly. September 11th showed us the need to prepare for terrorist attacks. Hurricane Katrina showed us that, whether natural or man-made, a disaster is a disaster. And just as important as prevention is in saving lives, so too is our response when tragedy strikes.

We must stand together as one nation building and equipping our law enforcement, firefighters, and first responders with every tool needed to protect, defend, and respond. Anything less puts our families and communities in harm's way.

Let us also join in prayer for this great nation of ours and for the families who suffered on September 11th, and for those who are suffering today as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

I'm Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi. Thank you for listening.