One of these things is not like the others

Customizing terrorism preparedness to meet L.A. County's unique needs


     The lyrics in an old Sesame Street song once crooned, "One of these things is not like the others" and challenged kids to figure out which one it was. In the case of the Department of Homeland Security's Tier One risk targets, one could easily sing instead: "One of these targets is not like the others."

     Of the six Tier One areas — New York City; Chicago, Illinois; Houston, Texas; San Francisco, California; Los Angeles County, California; and Washington, D.C., which one is not like the others?

     The answer: Los Angeles County.

     New York City, Chicago, Houston, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco include concentrated high-visibility targets in densely populated areas, known to everyone around the world. New York City and Washington, D.C., have created "rings of steel" around critical districts where terrorists could achieve widespread loss of life and disrupt essential economic infrastructure. Houston has allocated significant funds to secure petroleum production and distribution. Chicago has increased surveillance around the Mercantile Exchange and Sears Tower as has San Francisco around the Golden Gate Bridge.

     However, Los Angeles County's sheer size — 4,084 square miles — and the layout of its population makes it extremely difficult to secure. Consider that:

  • 40 percent of all imported goods pass through the Port of Long Beach;
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the second busiest airport in the country;
  • The city is within 100 miles of the longest land border in the Western Hemisphere, which the state shares with Mexico; and whil
  • The famous 'HOLLYWOOD' sign is not in itself a terrorist target, the movie industry and all that it stands for definitely is.

     Cooperation is necessary to protect such a county, which encompasses 88 incorporated cities (including the city of Los Angeles) and many lucrative terrorist targets. Add to this the frequency of earthquakes, wildfires, landslides and tsunami warnings, and we begin to see the complexities of protecting the more than 10 million people who call Los Angeles County home. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the field offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), work cohesively with area fire departments and the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management to provide public safety personnel with necessary resources to protect the population.

Share and share alike

     Chief William McSweeney heads the Office of Homeland Security for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Known as the largest sheriff's office in the world, this agency protects 44 of the 88 cities within Los Angeles County, oversees the transit police and operates the largest jail system in the country.

     McSweeney points out the country's vulnerabilities were revealed following the events of 9/11 and again after Hurricane Katrina. He emphasizes the United States has learned from these tragedies and has made remarkable advancements since then. "We have learned to cooperate, not compete, with neighboring agencies as well as federal agencies," he explains. "Now we have local police agencies performing national security duties, and it is very effective."

     He goes on to say that superior intelligence sharing is the only way to protect an area the size of Los Angeles County. "It is impossible to completely protect every single building and area identified as targets," he says. "Prevention by intelligence sharing is the most effective deterrent to terrorism."

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