VALDOSTA -- President George W. Bush announced the creation of a new Cabinet position Thursday to address domestic security concerns that are manifesting themselves throughout the country this weekend.
The Office of Homeland Security will be headed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, but it is still unclear how various federal agencies will implement the now bolstered mission of protecting citizens from domestic terrorism.
A U.S. Marshals Service spokesman in Washington, D.C., said Friday that he suspects his agency will play a major role, but the details have not been handed down.
"We're one of the premier security agencies in the nation, so I would think we would be somewhat involved," said the spokesman. "We're very active right now."
The Marshals Service is working closely with the FBI on investigations, the spokesman said, noting U.S. Marshals currently have the power to deputize people to act as federal officers as well.
The primary mission of the Marshals Service is to protect federal judges, guard courthouses and arrest federal felons throughout the nation. But as the events of Sept. 11 revealed, civilians are also at great risk from terrorism.
No-fly zones have been declared over football stadiums for the weekend's college and professional games, bomb-sniffing dogs will be present for the Miss America Pageant, and water departments across the country have been warned by the FBI to take extra precautions for the weekend, the Associated Press reported.
The president has said the mission of the new Office of Homeland Security will be to coordinate the efforts of federal, state and local governments at the "highest level," but a Georgia Emergency Management official said Friday it is not yet clear how the new Cabinet post will affect Georgia.
"We really haven't received any word," said Ken Davis, GEMA spokesman.
Davis said GEMA is playing a role in anti-terrorism task forces created through U.S. Attorney's offices all over the state this week at the behest of Attorney General John Ashcroft.
"There's heightened security at state facilities now," Davis said. "We are stressing that all state agencies review their plans."
Aside from responding to natural disasters, Davis said GEMA has always prepared for technological or man-made disasters. He cited the bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the Y2K scare as examples.
GEMA is reportedly reviewing plans for response to terrorist attacks, and is part of an expanded weapons of mass destruction task force that involves three dozen agencies.
"The attention this has gathered has increased urgency in state governments," said Davis.
Davis said GEMA in the past few years has circulated disaster readiness instructional videos to local governments, and those tapes will continue to be a useful local resource.
To contact reporter Peter Failor, please call 244-3400, ext. 247.
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