by Bradley Parsons
The City’s first line of defense is more prepared than ever to respond to a terrorist attack, but a State monopoly on Homeland Security funds will make it more difficult to prevent that attack from happening, the City’s emergency preparedness chief said Wednesday.
Chip Patterson gave the State high marks for including City and County input in developing a statewide strategy. However, he said that strategy was largely reactionary. Preventative measures are best conceived and implemented locally Patterson said, and Jacksonville has not received funding to take those steps.
“Primarily, a city needs technology — communications technology, camera systems, data gathering systems, alert and warning systems — to overcome the advantage of secrecy and surprise that a terror group might have,” said Patterson. “Currently, the way the State is set up, we can’t get the funds to make that happen.”
Instead the State has spent federal money to provide cities like Jacksonville with response training and equipment. Since Sept.11, Patterson said the City has received search-and-rescue team training; its hospitals given protective and decontamination equipment to protect doctors and patients from chemical, biological or radioactive attacks; and regional caches of pharmaceuticals have been compiled; all paid for by the State.
Where the State comes up short, said Patterson, is in providing cities money to spend at their own discretion. Jacksonville officials know the city’s strengths and its particular vulnerabilities, said Patterson, and would be better able to direct dollars toward the city’s weak spots.
For instance, Patterson said the City lacks funds to create an auxiliary communications center for use in an attack’s aftermath. This “hot site” would keep communication flowing among police, fire, emergency and military responders if an attack or disaster knocked out front-line communications.
“The whole idea is to be able to provide emergency services at the same level as prior to any damage or destruction,” said Patterson. “There are cost-effective ways to go about this, but it does require financial help to get these things done.”
Patterson said he favored some performance-based funding passed from the State to the municipal level. Following this business-model approach, a city would request funding to meet a specific need. A timeline would be established and progress would be periodically checked to ensure funds were spent efficiently.
Ironically, Patterson said Jacksonville received federal grant money in this manner prior to Sept.11. The terrorist attacks that day and the Homeland Security bureaucracy that followed eliminated the direct federal funding. Federal dollars were diverted to the states.
The lack of direct funding appears to follow a national trend. Last week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors announced that 90 percent of cities have not received funds from the country’s largest federal Homeland Security program.
The report followed a survey of more than 200 mayors, police and fire chiefs, emergency managers and public health officials, tracking billions in federal Homeland Security funding. The analysis found that states have been slow to distribute funds to cities.
Hempstead, N.Y. Mayor James Garner, the USCM president, decried the lack of funding in his organization’s announcement.
“911 does not ring at the statehouse; it rings at City Hall,” said Garner. “Cities are the first to respond in a crisis, but last in line for funds. We need direct funds.”
Patterson credited the State for listening to its cities and counties in updating its statewide defense strategy. He said the State sought extensive input at the local level and would unveil its strategy early next year.