Tennessee Homeland Security Chief Addresses UT Alumni

KNOXVILLE – The man responsible for safeguarding Tennessee from terrorist threats spoke to University of Tennessee alumni Wednesday.

Retired Army Brigadier General Wendell Gilbert gave the keynote address to UT’s annual Alumni Summer College, a five-day event featuring lectures from a variety of university experts.

Brigadier General Wendell Gilbert (retired)

Gen. Gilbert, who is the Deputy of Homeland Security for the state of Tennessee, spoke about why national priorities have changed so much after last September’s attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

“Homeland security as a concept is here and it’s going to be here for quite a while,” Gilbert said. “We’re going to have to go on the defensive to protect our infrastructure and people, but you don’t win a war on defense, so we’re going to keep going after Al-Qaida, wherever they are.”

Gilbert said his group is constantly studying ways to improve safety measures in Tennessee.

“Recently we held a tabletop exercise to determine what would happen if the federal government increased the national terrorism threat level,” Gilbert said, “so we don’t get caught unprepared if that actually happens. The exercise went well, and we feel confident of our ability to respond to threats.”

Gilbert said the national director of homeland security, former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, has given the Tennessee office much financial and logistical help.

“We are pleased with the support we’re getting from Ridge’s office in Washington, D.C.,” Gilbert said. “We just received $15 million to help us prepare for any bio-terrorism event, and in President Bush’s budget request for FY 2003, there’ll be some additional money coming to us.”

Tennessee is in real need of those federal dollars, Gilbert said, because “as you know, our state revenue is down and we just don’t have the dollars to do some of the things we need to do in the area of homeland security.”

The UT Alumni Summer College continues through Sunday, August 18.