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County names homeland security chief

LAWRENCEVILLE - On Sept. 11, 2001, Alan Doss watched television with disbelief as two planes were piloted into New York's Twin Towers.

Later that day, he sat with his staff at Gwinnett's southside precinct and brainstormed about what could happen here.

Now, more than four years later, Doss will turn to the brainstorming full-time as the county's first homeland security director.

While the county has not been the victim of terrorism in the past, investigators have learned that two of the Sept. 11 attack pilots trained at Gwinnett County Airport-Briscoe Field.

"I don't know who picked this spot, if it was Osama bin Laden or someone else. Obviously, we've been involved already," Doss said.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the homeland security efforts of Georgia's second-largest county have been decentralized, with agencies making plans and seeking grants on their own.

On Friday, County Administrator Jock Connell announced the formation of a homeland security department to act as a "clearing house" for efforts.

The department will be located within the Gwinnett County Police Department but will interact with other county departments such as public utilities, transportation and parks and recreation as well as the nine city police departments located within Gwinnett, the Sheriff's Department, the health agencies and hospitals and other organizations.

Doss will answer to Police Chief Charlie Walters.

County officials promised to give the department what resources it needs, but said the program would require a small staff and, at least at this point, no extra dollars in the county budget.

In fact, Doss has not been given a raise for taking over the role of homeland security director, Walters said.

The job would mostly be administrative, Walters said. In any incident, the usual chain of command would continue - Doss would not be placed in charge at a terror attack.

But Doss said he would probably go to the scene if anything did occur, at least to learn about how to prevent such incidents and plan for responses in the future.

The director

Maj. Alan Doss, 55, joined the Gwinnett County Police Department in March 1977. His most recent job was as commander of tactical operations, which includes the county's crime prevention, crime suppression, park police, K-9 and environmental enforcement units.

He has a master's degree from Georgia State University's College of Public and Urban Affairs and has served in various positions from assistant SWAT commander to planning for law enforcement response to large-scale rallies and events.

He was even Rotary Club Officer of the Year for 1985.

"This has been family territory for a long time," he said, speaking of weekend visits to his grandparents' home in Grayson while he was growing up in DeKalb County.

The father of two said he wants to work to keep Gwinnettians safe.

"What you have to prepare for is the unimaginable," he said. "One of these things that was unimaginable was a guy coming into a school with a hammer and hitting a little girl on the head with it."

That happened in February 2002 at Mountain Park Elementary School, and Doss worked that day as the commander of the precinct.

"You can't prepare for all the unimaginables. What you can do is mitigate it when it happens," he said.

The department

Doss said he did not know how the county's emergency management coordinator would work with homeland security efforts.

The coordinator is now within the Fire Department.

But Doss said his job would be more about prevention and potential responses to terrorism while the emergency management works more on response to natural disasters.

The two did work together earlier this year in establishing a hurricane evacuee center in Lawrenceville after Hurricane Katrina.

For the next several months, Doss plans to study Gwinnett's homeland security situation and recommend ways to establish the department.

For now, Walters said, a grants writer and the agency representative on the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force will be assigned to homeland security.

"It would be shame on us if we don't do it. It would be shame on us if we weren't prepared," Walters said.

"The majority of citizens won't see a change in the way we're doing business. ... We're focusing resources so we can protect them better."

Sheriff Butch Conway said he was pleased with the county's desire to centralize homeland security efforts, but said he would continue to dedicate his own staff to the cause.

"It was needed. Not enough has been done to this point," he said. "We'll work hand in hand with them."