Chertoff: Planning for disaster requires everyone
Now of course, local governments though can't necessarily handle everything, particularly in a significant disaster, so the next level of defense is state government. State government has the most powerful tool in disaster response, the National Guard, which is equipped and trained to deal with all kinds of emergencies that can affect a particular state. The state also has enhanced ability to provide assets and supplies, set up its own state shelters and some state use, for example, their community college system or similar types of systems to create a backbone for shelters. And the state also has, again, powerful legal authorities that come into play when there is an emergency. The federal government plays the next role of backstop. It is to respond to state and local needs, both before an event and after an event, to provide logistical support for search and rescue, emergency supplies, disaster centers, and, of course, claims processing for those kinds of federal assistance which are available under the law for those people who've been damaged by a disaster and who need to be able to get back on their feet and get back into their houses.
Now sometimes we have to supply a little bit more than others. We do recognize there is the extraordinary occurrence where you have a catastrophe that is so great that it really overwhelms local and state capacities. And in those cases we do want to be ready and we have gotten ourselves much more ready this year to come in and provide a little bit of extra help, and we do that not only using the tremendous resources of the Department of Homeland Security, which brings to the table not only FEMA, but the Coast Guard, thousands of trained law enforcement officers, the Transportation Security Administration, which has the ability to help us coordinate with the airlines, but also with the Department of Defense and the Department of HHS, which have a significant number of additional resources.
And I want to make this point as clear as I can: It is not the desire or intent of the United States government on the federal level to push aside or supplant state and local responders. We think the right answer is always to have the local and state responders out there first and we need to support them and support their authorities.
If there does come the extraordinary instance where we do have to come in and play a little bit more of an active role than in a normal model, we do then of course request and expect that the state and local responders will support us, not only with their resources but with their legal authorities, because to be quite frank, the legal authorities in an emergency are often largely state and local officials and not with the federal government.
But if I talk only about the government I'm only discussing a small part of the total number of people and the total resources that we bring to deal with an emergency. The largest element of what this society has to bring in the case of an emergency lies in the private sector with businesses and with individual citizens. And as I'm going to talk about very briefly, it's critically important that individuals in the private sector take responsible steps to prepare themselves, not only because of their own needs but because of the needs all of us in a very interdependent society have to make sure that everybody is pulling their weight.