Ridge: Blackout Was 'Initial Test' for Homeland Security System

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Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (search) said Monday last week's blackout was an "initial test" of new systems and partnerships with states designed to enhance the nation's response to crises.

"The systems that were put in place, the means by which we communicate and share information that we have set up in our respective organizations to help one another if we need one another, were clearly tested that night," Ridge said during a meeting of the National Governors Association (search).

"Let's just call it an initial test of our relationship, and I think it worked pretty well."

Although state and local authorities shouldered most of the load in responding to the outage, Homeland Security teams stood ready to deploy.

One group was prepared to set up backup telecommunications networks so the federal government could manage police, fire and emergency services. But the primary networks did not break down.

"Clearly we still have additional work to do, but it demonstrated again the notion that the federal government has to partner with the states in order to maximize our ability to prevent a crisis or respond to a crisis," Ridge said.

During his public remarks, Ridge did not discuss heightened concerns that the nation's electricity grid and power plants might be vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (search), energy secretary during the Clinton administration, said Monday that Ridge should conduct an immediate assessment of security at plants and electricity grids, and develop a plan that includes "additional security assistance to the states."

Richardson stressed the need to improve security at nuclear plants.

Ridge said he was asking governors to identify five officials in their states through whom top-level security information could be shared over a secure Web site.