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Residents seek answers about homeland security issues
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by Jeffrey Lyles
Staff Writer

Apr. 24, 2003

Area residents shared their concerns about a lack of information regarding homeland security measures Monday at a meeting in Mount Rainier.

Michael Byrd, director for the office of National Capital Region Coordination, addressed those concerns at Rep. Chris Van Hollen's town meeting at Mount Rainier Elementary School.

The signs along the Beltway and other major highways asking commuters to call if they see any suspicious activity was one of the major issues. Residents said they wanted to know what was considered suspicious activity.

"We use the best information our intelligence can provide us, but we need to work on our advisory systems because they're not as specific as we would like," Byrd said.

One resident who declined to give his name asked if Americans were getting lax in their vigilance concerning homeland security since more than a year has elapsed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"9-11 was very hard for me because I lost so many friends that day," said Byrd, a former New York firefighter. "I don't think we've lost that vigilance because that is still so recent in our minds, especially in New York and this region."

Brentwood resident Zaida Robinson, who works at Mount Rainier Elementary School, asked what programs were in place to educate children about homeland security.

"Not that we don't have programs in place, but we can make some improvements," Byrd said. "We need a common approach so no matter what school district children are in, the situation is handled in the same way."

Resident Barry Foster said that he had a lot of concerns regarding the Patriot Act and how that relates to citizen's privacy.

"I think a lot of things will be done in the name of security [that may not need to be]," Foster said to a round of applause from the residents. "My neighbors and I feel secure, and part of that is because of the barrier that exists between government and the people. I'm not quite sure that I've been hearing enough of those concerns."

Byrd said that while he did not have any direct influence on the policy-making decisions, he would pass on the residents' concerns to the appropriate parties.

"Attitude is everything," Byrd said. "We can either be afraid or we can be ready, and I haven't seen Americans who are afraid, but are prepared to deal with the situation."

"I know people who are afraid, and many of them are Middle Eastern immigrants," said Resident Michael Foley. "They are afraid that someone who doesn't know them or like them may report them as one of these suspicious people. It seems like the Homeland Defense Department is about frightening Americans."

Van Hollen said that he is aware that in some parts of the country that Muslims have been victims of racial profiling, creating a greater problem than it intends to solve in creating a safe environment for all citizens.

Byrd said the goal of the department is not to frighten people, but protecting the American way of life for all Americans.

"We're going to work at making it better," he said.

E-mail Jeffrey Lyles at jlyles@gazette.net


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