Former LA Mayor Forms Security Think Tank
New group will evaluate ''points of vulnerability'' and recommend solutions
LOS ANGELES - Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, frustrated at what he sees as a potential threat to the region, has created a think tank of security experts to help prepare for a possible terrorist attack, according to a recent story by reporter Rick Orlov in the Los Angeles Daily News.
The private Riordan Foundation has launched the Institute for Urban Homeland Security, with the goal of bringing in researchers to evaluate points of vulnerability and recommend possible solutions.
His first targets are the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
"What we've found is that no one is in charge," Riordan said about the nation's two busiest busiest container ports.?
The former mayor told the paper that "It's like what I learned when I was mayor. You have to empower people. It all comes down to governance, governance, governance. At the port, you want one person in charge. Now we have to see how we can make that happen."
Riordan is using his considerable contacts to force local officials to confront the issue.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, whose district includes both ports, and city officials from Los Angeles and Long Beach, are scheduled to get together soon in what Riordan hopes will be a step toward joint effort. The cities and county government have been unwilling to concede any separate authority.
"That is something they will have to work out," Riordan said. "At least they're talking."
However, none of the local officials involved would comment directly about Riordan's proposals regarding the port.
"We thank him for what he's trying to do to make sure we consider all aspects," Deputy Los Angeles Mayor Troy Edwards said. "Certainly, what he's done is raise interest in this."
Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton said Riordan has pointed out an important issue.
"When people think of terrorism, generally they think of the airport as a target," Bratton said. "What the mayor is doing is raising attention for us to deal with the port issues."
The vulnerability of the ports was raised in a recent ABC News report after reporters managed to smuggle inert uranium into the country.
"We have millions of tons of cargo coming in through those ports, and we should pay attention to it," Bratton said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said he wanted to become involved with whatever programs Riordan is developing.
"I've created our own homeland security team, and these are types of issues we need to explore and become involved in," Baca said.
Riordan said he began thinking of the local needs soon after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"About a year before I left office, I was concerned about this," Riordan said. "There are 15 or 20 agencies involved in national security, and there is no real leadership. In watching Washington, I didn't feel anyone was in charge."
Then he happened to hear Amy Zegart, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, discuss similar issues during a broadcast on National Public Radio.
"She was saying exactly what I was thinking, so I contacted her," Riordan said.
What resulted was a $90,000 investment to create the new institute and give Zegart an open agenda to study areas that need work.
Zegart, who has written books about federal agencies, said she sees her work with Riordan as an extension of her teaching at the UCLA School of Public Policy.
"There is a great need for a public-private partnership with a nonprofit, nonpartisan group," Zegart said. "That's what we have."
Zegart assigned some of her students to work on homeland security issues, and they focused on the twin ports, their potential problems and steps for protection.
"We started with the question of who's in charge if something happens," Zegart told the paper. "We were told it would depend on the incident. That didn't seem the right answer."
Many of the issues at the ports - such as inspecting cargo and workers - are long-term problems that will have to be addressed by the federal government.
What she hopes to see is better coordination and communication among local officials at the start. In the future, Zegart said she hopes to see a national database developed on what different jurisdictions are doing to deal with similar problems.
Also being addressed locally is the need for better communication among emergency organizations.
"We want to develop a sort-of terrorism resource directory, so local leaders in cities can talk about the best practices they employ," she said.
Zegart said Riordan plans formally launch his new institute formally in the coming weeks and is looking to hire a permanent staff to coordinate future studies.
Riordan told the Daily News that much will depend on the interest he sees in the institute and whether it can raise the funds necessary to become self-sufficient.
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