Remarks by Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge



(Washington, DC) Sept. 9, 2004—SECRETARY RIDGE: Tucker, I would say to you that a lot of us, a lot of your friends and a lot of people in the country, think that the Eagle Scouts are a role model for not only their peers, but also for adults, given the amount of energy and effort and commitment to service and education you bring to accomplishing that goal, so I thank you for those kind words. But your colleagues don't have to look to us for role models; they can look to you. Thanks very much for that kind introduction.

The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts have, for many years, prepared our children and young adults to be good citizens, to serve their neighbors, and to practice leadership, emergency preparedness, and lifesaving skills. And you are right—the Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared," is good advice and a good motto not only for the Boy Scouts, but for every citizen of every age and every occupation as we launch National Preparedness Month.

Speaking of planning and preparing, obviously, this is Site 2. In anticipation of the weather, we weren't sure we should hold it outside, so we planned for the event and we're glad we did, and sorry we're crowded, but for a good cause.

Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden used to teach his players the following maxim: "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." Now, on my best day on my jump shot, you can't get a nickel under my sneakers; I assure you of that. So, I never had to worry about getting advice from any basketball coach, but I think Coach Wooden's statement is true.

I also know that we cannot afford to fail. The stakes are too high. And we don't have to go back as far as September 11th to remind ourselves that we need to be prepared for not only terrorist attacks, but also other emergencies. We see what has developed down in Florida; two hurricanes, a third possibly on the way. You saw the horrible tragedies associated with the incident with the school in Russia, and the list seems to go on and on and on.

We know that the Department of Education has a good Web site that features advice and best practices for school administrators, and to that end, we encourage schools not to delay in creating their emergency plans. The disasters wrought by Mother Nature in Florida are a grim reminder that disasters do happen, and those families who took the time to have transistor radios, batteries, food, water, and important papers on-hand and prepared for evacuation, frankly, were in much better shape than others. They were prepared.

I think it's important at this juncture to thank all the men and women and organizations involved in the response and recovery effort in Florida and in Georgia and Alabama and everywhere else. FEMA, the Red Cross, The Salvation Army, church groups, and literally thousands and thousands of people have come from around the country to help their fellow citizens, particularly in Florida. They're working around the clock to help these communities, these families, and the state recover.

In facing new hardships, new enemies, new wars, and new challenges, Americans are not only all equal to the task as citizens, we are all joined to it, united in a common effort for the common good. I am very pleased that so many of you have decided to participate in this common effort for the common good. A truly unique coalition has come together to encourage and help Americans take simple steps to prepare themselves and their families for any possible emergency.

More than 80 organizations and all 56 states and territories are participating today and throughout the entire month to work together to plan events and get critical preparedness information to more people in their communities. Thanks to the efforts of all these partners, millions of citizens will hear the message of preparedness.

We were overwhelmed with the positive response from both the public sector and the private sector. The activities being held throughout this month are truly impressive. Visitors to the local Starbucks coffee shop can walk away with a family communication plan brochure. NASCAR fans will see public service announcements and will receive preparedness information at race kiosks. The Red Cross has mobilized its chapters to host preparedness fairs and first aid training. The United States Chamber of Commerce is helping businesses prepare plans, and the list goes on and on.

Our state and local partners are spreading the message across America with rallies, media campaigns, preparedness booths, and town hall meetings. I could spend hours talking about the great things all of you are doing. I would also like to thank the America Prepared Campaign and its chairman, Steven Brill, for their tireless and effective effort on all aspects of this initiative.

Three years after 9/11, I can tell you that working in common effort for the common good is how Americans must approach homeland security. Because when I say "homeland security," I'm not speaking of a federal strategy; I'm speaking about the mission and the mandate of an entire nation.

Homeland security in the 21st century is really about the integration of a nation: everyone pledged to freedom's cause, everyone its beneficiary, and therefore, everyone its protector. It's a philosophy of shared responsibility, shared leadership, and shared accountability.

I thank you for all you have done and all you will do this month to help America be prepared. Thank you for setting up preparedness booths, developing public service announcements, handing out Ready Kits, holding town hall meetings. I encourage you also to continue to spread the word long after the calendar flips to the next couple of months, for your neighbors and friends to get a Ready Kit, make a family communication plan, and be informed.

We also know that citizens can volunteer with Citizen Corps Councils or any of the partners here so we can harness the power of every individual through training, education, and volunteer service. To defend the homeland, we must start by defending the hometown. And we defend the hometown with a commitment to vigilance and preparedness. The more prepared communities are, the more prepared and secure the nation becomes.

Terrorists profoundly underestimated the character of our country, the resolve of our ordinary but extraordinary citizens. Your efforts show the world that America will not shrink from the great challenges ahead, but that we will come together and answer that challenge loudly and confidently with common purpose, yet uncommon strength.

In addition to this extraordinary coalition of public and private sector partners, we are extremely fortunate to have four leaders of Congress who have provided bipartisan support for the Department of Homeland Security and its mission and have volunteered to co-chair the launch of this preparedness campaign.

I'd like to recognize our congressional co-chairs for this important project: Senators Sue Collins and Joe Lieberman, Representatives Chris Cox and Jane Harman. I certainly want to thank them for their support, as I said before, of the department and its mission which just naturally flows to their presence here today supporting this preparedness launch. So, I'd like to call on Senator Collins. Senator?


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