Metropolises Seek More Disaster-Planning Money
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good Morning.
A decision to cut Homeland Security spending in New York and Washington makes absolutely no sense, if you live in New York or Washington. It looks better in some other cities that are getting more money. This morning we'll hear both perspectives. NPR's Pam Fessler has been listening to those who gain and those who lose as the government tries to match its money with the risks.
PAM FESSLER reporting:
On Capitol Hill yesterday, lawmakers were livid. Democratic Congressman Jim Moran, of Virginia, said it boggled his mind that the government would cut security funding for two such obvious targets, New York and Washington, D.C.
Representative JIM MORAN (Democrat, Virginia): Not to recognize the priority that Washington, D.C. must have when we've got millions of people here, 20 million visitors a year, the seat of the nation's capital of the entire free world and you make a 40 percent reduction in the funding?
FESSLER: His Republican colleague, Tom Davis, also of Virginia, complained that the administration said it had a new system to target funds where they would do the most good, but ended up missing the mark by a mile.
Representative THOMAS DAVIS (Republican, Virginia): When the terrorists are going out into foreign countries, they're hitting London and Madrid; they're hitting capitals. They're not likely to hit, you know, Bullfrog Corner, West Virginia. I think your bean counters are just counting the wrong beans.
FESSLER: And the New Yorkers who attended the hearing before the House Government Reform Committee weren't any happier. Republican Vito Fossella, whose district includes Brooklyn and Staten Island, said he lost hundreds of constituents on 9/11.
Representative VITO FOSSELLA (Republican, New York): Is there any city that is more targeted than New York City not just in this country, but in the entire world?
Mr. GEORGE FORESMAN (Undersecretary for Preparedness, Department of Homeland Security): Congressman, I don't know the specific answer to it. I will make the assumption that probably not.
FESSLER: That was George Foresman, the Homeland Security Department's Undersecretary for Preparedness. He had the unenviable job of trying to explain what even he admits is a very complicated process. He noted that Congress cut funding for urban area security by $125 million this year, so there was less money to go around. But he said even with the cuts, large areas, such as New York, L.A. and Washington, still got the bulk of the funds.
Mr. FORESMAN: While everybody talks about Omaha or Louisville, they represent a very low dollar amount in the context of how these dollars were - just a large amount of dollars went to these high metropolitan areas, recognizing that our concern is about making sure that we bring America's readiness up, and that we don't have any weak links or Achilles' heels.
FESSLER: Foresman explained that the administration not only looked at the threat faced by the 46 urban areas eligible for the money, but also at the effectiveness of their proposals for spending the funds. He said New York wanted to spend a lot on personnel costs, but the administration prefers more long-term investments, and things such as better communications equipment. Foresman admitted the administration hasn't done a very good job explaining how the decision were made, but his efforts yesterday left some at the hearing even more perplexed.
Mr. FORESMAN: A number of people have been confusing threat and risk in the same discussion, and risk analysis is not risk management, threat is not risk. And what it's important for us…
Unidentified Man: Well what is risk? Let's talk about…
Mr. FORESMAN: Risk is the combination of threat, vulnerability and consequences.
FESSLER: But to further complicate matters, some of that is based on classified information, which even those applying for the grants don't have. Officials from New York and Washington say they plan to delve further into the exact method used to distribute the funds, and whether changes should be made. They're not happy that, for now, they'll have to put off projects such as updating evacuation plans and buying new emergency gear.
(Soundbite of trolley bell)
FESSLER: But here in Charlotte, North Carolina, officials are pleased that theirs is one of the cities that will be getting more Homeland Security money this year; 60 percent more, almost $9 million overall.
(Soundbite of trolley bell)
FESSLER: Pat McCrory is the mayor of Charlotte, and we're standing in the center of the city's business district at lunchtime.
Mr. Mayor, what do you have to say to all those people who are upset that your city is getting an increase in funding, when places like New York and Washington, D.C. are getting less?
Mayor PAT MCCRORY (Mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina): A city like Charlotte is not Mayberry. This is a growing, dynamic city with 60-story buildings. It's the second largest financial center in the United States of America, right behind New York City.
FESSLER: In fact, he notes, right behind him is the headquarters of Bank of America, one of the nation's largest banks. Another bank, Wachovia, has its headquarters down the street. There are also two nuclear power plants nearby, and a motor speedway that draws crowds of close to 200,000.
Mayor MCCRORY: We could be a potential target. It's something we don't like to talk about. I'm not proud of that, but it's something we have to prepare for.
FESSLER: But, just how prepared? New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says when a terrorist is stopped, he has a map of New York in his pocket, not someplace like Charlotte. McCrory takes issue with that.
Mayor MCCRORY: The fact of the matter is we've had some terrorist activity right here in Charlotte.
FESSLER: He notes the conviction four years ago of two Lebanese men who ran a cigarette smuggling ring to raise money for the militant group Hezbollah. A Pakistani man was recently deported after he was found videotaping Charlotte's tallest buildings and possessing similar videos from other cities. And last month, a man from Belize was convicted of planning to bomb a downtown Bank of America branch so he could rob another one across the street.
Sergeant BUD CESENA (Sergeant, Charlotte Police Department): The first screen that we're looking at over here is the Bank of America tower building, and that is the camera of - the security camera from the bank itself.
FESSLER: Sergeant Bud Cesena sits in the police department's new command center. There's an impressive array of video screens along the wall. Homeland Security money helped pay for this setup, and Cesena hopes to expand the operation.
One screen shows four views of Charlotte's international airport. Another shows the view of downtown from a rooftop camera that Cesena controls from his desk.
Sgt. CESENA: As we zoom in to the - well, there we go - as we zoom into the Transit Center, you'll see that we can pick up from this what we may miss on the outside cameras.
FESSLER: He says all this surveillance comes in handy to monitor crime or large crowds, but it can also be used to help prevent a terrorist attack. He says the region tries to spend its Homeland Security money on equipment that won't sit in a closet gathering dust.
Sgt. CESENA: Our philosophy has been, buy things that are going to assist you on a day-to-day level in preparing yourself for that big event that may happen or, in fact, may never occur.
FESSLER: So far, the region has received $13 million. It's paid for video conferencing equipment and computer software at the Emergency Operations Center. The money has also been used to make first-responder radios compatible, and to equip emergency response teams.
Captain GLEN NEIMEYER (Division Captain, Hickory Grove Division, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department): That's a powered air respirator.
FESSLER: Police Captain Glen Neimeyer takes out one of several dozen black boxes stored in the side of new blue truck, also paid for with Homeland Security money. He says the equipment is for responding to chemical, biological or radiological attacks.
Capt. NEIMEYER: Hose attaches to the mask, hose attaches to the filter, and then you put two filters on it and turn it on.
FESSLER: Neimeyer says the equipment is multi-purpose, though. It also comes in handy for teargas.
Capt. NEIMEYER: We're spending the largest chunk of money on personal protective equipment. We're not buying the fancy toys. We're not buying the, you know, sport utility vehicles and things that, you know, that I've seen in other bad examples.
FESSLER: But, of course, one man's fancy toy can be another's critical gear. Fire Chief Luther Fincher, who oversees homeland security here, understands these are difficult choices for the government.
Chief LUTHER FINCHER (Chief, Charlotte Fire Department): No one in the United States gets the amount of money that they think they need.
FESSLER: But he points out that New York City has already received over half a billion dollars.
Chief FINCHER: We have a paltry four percent of what New York has received and I will give them their due. I know many people in New York City, and they have some of the hardest things to protect in the nation, but yet, they've got more money than anybody in the nation.
FESSLER: He says using some of the funds to protect other places, like Charlotte, is a wise investment.
Do you feel that there's been any waste or duplication?
Chief FINCHER: No, none whatsoever. In fact, I need more money.
FESSLER: But whether he'll get any depends a lot on how Congress responds to this latest flap over Homeland Security funds.
Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.