U.S. must remain vigilant about homeland security with fewer resources
Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, the early intense interest in outfitting first-responding agencies to ensure their readiness in the event of more terrorist attacks has waned along with federal resources. Guest columnist Eric Holdeman argues that everyone needs to adjust to keep communities safe.
Special to The Times
What have we gained after 10 years and billions of dollars in federal funding for "homeland security"? Are we safer today than a decade ago? Has the investment in debt been worth the expenditure of funds? Can we sustain disaster preparedness as a priority in the United States?
Measuring success is not an easy task. There are plenty of physical pieces of evidence that have added to the capabilities of first responders like police officers and firefighters.
The initial surge in funding for state and local agencies provided a virtual "Sears Wish Book" of equipment: fireboats, patrol boats, command vehicles, communications systems, chemical and biological detectors, personal protective suits, bomb robots, bomb-containment vessels, helicopters, and the list goes on and on. With each passing federal fiscal year, more and more grants were created as professional associations lobbied for dedicated funding streams for their discipline.
Homeland-security funding was spread around the nation like you would spread peanut butter on a piece of bread. Every corner, nook and cranny, city, township and fire district wanted a piece of the action in the form of funding. Rural states argued about the threat of agro-terrorism for their agriculture industry.
Meanwhile, New York City points out it was the "target" and continues to be a target. Today it would seem the Big Apple has won that debate with a significant percentage of 2011 funding dollars going there. Yet, for political reasons, the Department of Homeland Security continues to provide a baseline of funding to every state for homeland security. This is based more on a political analysis rather than a threat analysis.
So where are we on the "terrorist preparedness meter"? Already some of the equipment purchased has reached its shelf life and has either had to be replaced or discarded altogether. It turns out that maintaining a high level of preparedness for terrorism is expensive. As we argue about taxes and debt, the funding for the national priority of a secure and resilient homeland is slipping away in a sea of red ink brought on by our inability to want to pay for what we thought we desperately needed in 2001.
Without a dramatic attack subsequent to 9/11, homeland-security funding has finally started to decrease significantly. Like addicts looking for their next "grant fix," state and local governments are scrambling to find a way to preserve the enhanced capacities achieved via eight years of federal funding (real funding didn't reach state and locals until fiscal year 2003).
Given the status of state and local budgets, with cuts made to even fire and police staffing, it is unlikely that new sources of funding will be found. These new homeland-security capabilities can be expected to quickly atrophy.
Clearly, as a nation, we do not have a good track record of long-term follow-through on any issue. The cycle of throwing money at a problem immediately following a disaster, like we did after the 9/11 attacks, then not continuing to fund an appropriate level of disaster preparedness over time, should stop.
This is not solely a federal responsibility. State and local jurisdictions must also take some responsibility. If citizens want fewer taxes and a reduction of government's role in their lives, they must step up and fill the gaps in preparedness. They must become personally prepared as individuals and families. Both "borrowing the buck" and "passing the buck" must stop.
It feels like déjà vu. I recall the early 1990s when we took apart the last vestiges of the Civil Defense System. The civil-defense shelters, the radiological-monitoring equipment and calibration capability went the way of the dinosaur along with the disposal of all the outdated and expired civil-defense supplies that were stored in office-building basements.
It looks a bit like we are on that path — again.Eric Holdeman, former King County Office of Emergency Management director, is a consultant, columnist for Emergency Management Magazine and blogger at www.disaster-zone.com