U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs

Preparing for Disaster

Regina B. Schofield, September 2007

The recent anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks reminded us of the importance of being diligent in our work to prevent and prepare for future terrorist strikes and mass tragedies. As we commemorate National Preparedness Month in September, OJP continues to work with communities and state and local governments to enhance their capacity to respond to crises such as school shootings, national disasters, pandemic flu, and acts of terrorism.

At the heart of our preparedness efforts are several initiatives aimed at improving information sharing and interoperability among public safety agencies. Under the Global Information Sharing Initiative, our National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Bureau of Justice Assistance are working to promote promising practices and technologies for the secure sharing of criminal justice information and intelligence. We are partnering with the Department of Homeland Security to establish fusion centers, which serve as channel points for criminal and terrorist intelligence. We continue to administer the Regional Information Sharing System to enable law enforcement agencies to share data on terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and other crimes. And we are working to develop state-of-the-art technologies to allow swift and seamless communication among public safety agencies in times of crisis.

We also are investing our resources in improving the response to victims and families in the aftermath of tragedy. The recovery effort following the attacks on the World Trade Center, particularly NIJ's work to help the New York City Medical Examiner's Office identify the victims, underscored an ongoing problem in matching missing persons with human remains. More than 100,000 people are known to be missing in the United States, and some 4,400 unidentified bodies are received in medical examiners' and coroners' offices every year. In response to this silent mass disaster, OJP has led a Justice Department initiative to improve our nation's ability to find and identify missing persons. On September 12, we unveiled the newest tool in this effort, a national database of information about the unidentified dead. This database, a product of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), ultimately will allow medical examiners, coroners, and investigators to put names to unidentified human remains and to bring long-awaited answers to families of the missing.

Disaster preparedness encompasses prevention, response, and recovery, and OJP is working in each of these areas to ensure that our nation is equipped and ready in times of crisis. During National Preparedness Month, we reaffirm our commitment to generating the information and resources necessary to ensuring a better informed and safer America.

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