Technology and planning have lessened only some threats facing the nation since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to Fire Chief William Austin, one of only two fire chiefs nationwide to earn a master's degree in security from a Naval college.
Austin, West Hartford's fire chief for the last decade, recently said at a chamber of commerce meeting Nov. 14 that the delay in getting help to victims of Hurricane Katrina underscores flaws and weaknesses in the nation's defense by federal bureaus.
"Hurricane Katrina really woke this country up," Austin said. "Here we have a tremendous lack of leadership. There comes a time when somebody expects somebody to be doing something the right way. We could not get food, water or supplies into the Superdome and the convention center, yet Geraldo was standing right in front of it, reporting live."
The chief, who received a master's degree in security studies in October from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, discussed new security measures in place and what needs to be done to secure the safety of residents in case of an emergency. He also discussed recent issues at the national level and with homeland security.
The mailing of anthrax, which sickened and killed several people in 2001, including an elderly woman in Oxford, is far less a threat because of complex, anthrax-detection machines that scan millions pieces of mail nationwide each day.
Connecticut has seven of the estimated 500 devices now in use across the country. The machines, put in place nationwide in 2003, cost $2.5 billion.
But reliance on machines is not the only solution, he said.
"We can ensure your security -- we can put more guards here, we can check you before you get on airplanes, we can build a fence around our borders so people can't get in necessarily. These are all security items, but they don't necessarily translate into being safer," he said. "Safety requires an understanding and knowledge of exactly what's causing this situation."
Austin said that radicals declared war on America nearly a decade before the country was devastated by the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We've been at war since Sept. 11, 2001. As Americans, we fail to realize that they've been at war with us since Oct. 23, 1983," Austin said, referring to the suicide bombing of U.S. barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed more than 200 U.S. Marines.
Still, government is working on improving security. Much of the media focus is on what the federal government is or is not doing to ensure the safety of citizens, Austin said. But the state is doing a lot to further security measures.
"We now have a Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security which was formed in 2004," said Austin. "We also have a statewide Emergency Management and Homeland Security Coordinating Council and a statewide emergency response plan."
However, more needs to be done, he said.
"There's a whole lot of unfulfilled expectations here," he said. "There were 41 major recommendations that came out of the 9/11 Commission Reports. We've probably enacted about five of them."