(CNSNews.com) - "How many terrorist attacks do you think we will suffer in the United States in the next year?" journalist and author Steven Brill asked the former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and current Secretary Jeh Johnson on Thursday.
Ridge refused to "speculate" on a number, but he said terror attacks are inevitable: "Let's reflect of our past 15 years. We're safer now than we've ever been. There's still gaps, let's close the gaps and let's accept it. And don't ever, ever change what we do because were fearful of another attack. Because another attack is going to happen."
Ridge said the U.S. must "accept the reality" that the nature of the threat has changed: "The number of actors has increased. The profile of those actors is significantly different than it was on September 10, 2001," he said.
"There's an inevitability to the attacks. There's no way, if you take a look at what's happened in France over the past six months, there's a variety of means by which they can inflict their damage and, you know, affect the psyche of a country and bring pain and suffering to families and communities.
"They had a stabbing in Paris, they had a truck running over dozens of people in Nice, the mass shooting on November 13th and yesterday (Wednesday), they found gas cylinders in an automobile outside of Notre Dame (in Paris). So...I think we should just accept the inevitability. But after 15 years in reflection, what I really think the country needs to do is accept the reality that it is a global scourge. Accept a reality that it will probably happen again, here."
Ridge also said terrorism has to be put in context:
He noted that hundreds of people died in vehicle crashes over the Labor Day weekend, and nearly 40,000 people are expected to die in automobile accidents every year.
"I'm not trying to say that the pain or the suffering of a terrorist attack isn't significant, isn't real -- it is. But I want America to dial down some of the hyperbole and the hyperventilation. I don't want us to be breathless about this."
Current DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said a terrorist attack today may look very different from the 9/11 attacks.
"[A]nd if you're asking how many San Bernardino or Orlando-type attacks will we have in the year 2017, no national security, homeland security or law-enforcement expert is going to -- is in a position to quantify it. We have not ended the scourge, the threat of homegrown violent extremism.
"People ask me, what keeps you up at night? That is thing-number-one, the prospect of another homegrown -- or home-born -- violent extremist acquiring a weapon or a tool of mass violence and carrying out an attack someplace here, in the homeland. It cannot be quantified, it is difficult to detect given the nature of it."
Johnson said the Homeland Security Department needs to "continually remind the American people of all the things we are doing, the 10 or 12 things we're doing constantly to secure the homeland. But to also say to them, there's a role for the public through awareness, through vigilance.
"I think that the public understands, in a free and open Democratic society, you cannot eliminate all risk, whether it's a terrorist attack or a mass shooting or gang violence. We cannot end it tomorrow. We can and we should reduce it as much as possible, consistent with our values and consistent with our laws. But the prospect of an HVE attack is still there and we need to address it."