Homeland Security Office plans, gets ready to expand

Posted: Sunday, June 08, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The head of Alaska's new Office of Homeland Security says one big question remains when it comes to protecting the state's infrastructure against terrorists: Who's going to pay?

Specifically, says Samuel C. Johnson, who will pay to ''harden'' Alaska's soft targets and who will pay for added security when the federal government recommends a high security alert.

Johnson's plan at that level calls for sending National Guard troops to protect key sites along the trans-Alaska pipeline at a cost of $200,000 per month.

''Now that doesn't seem like a lot of money,'' Johnson said, ''until you do it for five months.''

All 50 states are developing homeland security offices. Johnson, a former deputy base commander at Elmendorf Air Force Base, has been working the kinks out of Alaska's since January, when it was created.

Johnson and homeland security director Tom Burgess make up half of the staff that will increase to 11 on July 1 when seven mid- to high-level technical employees will be ''donated'' from seven other departments.

Their job will be to plan for disasters, and sometime in spring 2005, prepare a statewide exercise to see how well they work.

To date, the office has taken a list of 70 ''assets'' in Alaska that merit protection from terrorists and ranked the top 15.

''They must be prioritized because we're going to run out of resources a long time before we run out of facilities,'' Johnson said.

Johnson won't reveal the top 15 but said it's not that difficult to figure out.

One is the big silver tube slicing south from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, which carries nearly 20 percent of America's domestic crude oil.

Another asset receives 85 percent of the freight delivered to Alaska. A third is a power plant on the west side of Cook Inlet with a capacity of 381.2 megawatts.

Johnson said Alaska's isolation makes it different from other states.

''We have such limited infrastructure,'' he said. ''We don't have redundant power. We don't have redundant utilities.''

''You don't have to hit Alaska very hard to hurt us really bad,'' he said.

With the top 15 assets ranked, homeland security planners want to decrease their vulnerability.

''We call that hardening,'' Johnson said.

''That may be fences, that may be lights, guards, cameras, motion detectors, dogs, people walking the beat,'' he said.

With 85 to 90 percent of the critical infrastructure in the country owned by the private sector, his office depends on sharing of information. Many businesses already have done a vulnerability analysis.

''They pretty much know where their soft spots are,'' he said.

Then there's the problem of what to do when the federal government recommends increasing the threat level. Alaska is currently at the ''elevated,'' or yellow level. Last month it was briefly increased to ''high,'' or orange level. His operation plans calls for more protection at orange.

''With all infrastructure, there are those extremely critical pieces that if you are able to take one of those out, the infrastructure would be out for a much longer time,'' Johnson said. ''That's true with power plants, that's true with pipelines, that's true with railroads.''

The issue to be decided is, who pays when a privately owned national asset merits additional protection. In the case of the trans-Alaska pipeline, he said, it makes no sense to have Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. to have 45 people standing around all year waiting for level orange.

''And when you do put additional forces on there, you can't train any civilian people to go to that pipeline instantaneously,'' he said. ''So it makes real good sense to use the National Guard or the Alaska State Defense Force in that security role.

''But who pays? The answers you get from people run the entire spectrum.''

When the nation went to orange in March, federal officials said they would try to obtain money for the additional protection. The grant came through but was not a certainty.

Johnson expects planning efforts to improve July 1. Gov. Frank Murkowski's administrative order setting up the office required one employee from the Departments of Transportation, Administration, Environmental Conservation, Public Safety and Health and Social Services to be shifted to Homeland Security. Two other departments, Corrections and Labor, also will send over one employee.

They will help write homeland security plans in their specialties.

''While we understand homeland security, we're not transportation experts or public health experts,'' Johnson said.

The office's other focus is public outreach. Johnson has set up a speakers bureau to help persuade Alaskans that they need a family plan for emergencies, either caused by natural disaster or terrorism.

''I just want people to be aware that the potential exists,'' he said of terrorism. ''To raise their consciousness. Don't be complacent. Reduce your vulnerabilities, and you reduce your vulnerabilities by having a family plan, by knowing what to do if there's an issue.''

He's eager to more than double his staff.

''It's a big elephant and we're just biting at it one bite at a time,'' he said. ''The sooner we get to having looked at all the vulnerabilities of those top 15 facilities, I'll feel a whole lot better.''

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