Metropolises Seek More Disaster-Planning Money A House Government Reform Committee meeting focuses on distribution of grants for urban disaster-response planning. New York and other large urban centers complain that they got less money this year than last.
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Metropolises Seek More Disaster-Planning Money

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Metropolises Seek More Disaster-Planning Money

Metropolises Seek More Disaster-Planning Money

Metropolises Seek More Disaster-Planning Money

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5490220/5490221" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A House Government Reform Committee meeting focuses on distribution of grants for urban disaster-response planning. New York and other large urban centers complain that they got less money this year than last.

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.

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Report: States, Cities Not Ready for Catastrophes

Two children play near their house in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, May 9, 2006. The neighborhood remains devastated from Hurricane Katrina. After the storm hit, President Bush ordered a review of state and city emergency-preparedness plans. Getty Images hide caption

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Read the Report

The Homeland Security Department's analysis cited preparedness gaps in 131 state and city emergency-response plans.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Nearly five years after the Sept. 11 attacks and 10 months after Hurricane Katrina, most American cities and states remain unprepared for catastrophes, a government analysis concludes.

The shortcomings in emergency planning, including antiquated and uncoordinated response guidelines, are cause "for significant national concern," the Homeland Security Department found.

Although emergency plans appear to be stronger in 18 states along the nation's "Hurricane Belt," the analysis cited preparedness gaps in 131 state and city emergency response plans. Planning for evacuations also remain "an area of profound concern," the review found.

"We rely to a troubling extent on plans that are created in isolation, are insufficiently detailed and are not subject to adequate review," concluded the department's 160-page review of findings and annexes that was delivered to Congress on Thursday evening.

"Time and again, these factors extract a severe penalty in the midst of a crisis: precious time is consumed in the race to correct the misperceptions of federal, state and local responders about roles, responsibilities and actions," the review found. "The result is uneven performance and repeated and costly operational miscues."

President Bush ordered the review of state and city emergency plans in a speech in New Orleans on Sept. 15, weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city. It analyzes response and evacuation procedures for all 50 states, the nation's 75 largest cities and six U.S. territories.

Lack of Planning for Those with Special Needs

Documents made available to the AP did not cite individual cities or states, and a Homeland Security official suggested that portion of the report would be released later.

The analysis criticized the states and cities in several key areas, including:

-- Failing to address emergency needs for sick, elderly or poor people unable to help themselves.

-- Being too slow to issue disaster warnings and other alerts to the public.

-- Failing to designate a clear chain of command during major disasters.

"Most review participants have demonstrated that they are able to successfully manage ommonly experienced incidents, yet are not fully prepared for a catastrophic event," the review concluded. It called the gaps cause "for significant national concern."

Hurricane-Prone States Better Prepared

But the report found that the 18 hurricane-prone states, from Maine to Texas, appeared to be better prepared for disasters than the rest of the country.

Those states hugging the Atlantic and Gulf coasts were judged by peers to have emergency plans "that were more likely to be rated sufficient… than other states," the review noted. Plans by

Hurricane Belt states to manage resources, health and medical issues, and communications were "noticeably stronger" in comparison, it found.

Similarly, cities in these states also were rated more likely to be prepared to issue warnings, manage resources, distribute emergency public information and mass care.

But there was a major exception: The cities were judged as comparatively not sufficient in planning for evacuations.

The review is the latest in a series of government and expert analyses since Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29. Nearly all have found lacking preparedness levels for large-scale

disasters. The Sept. 11 commission and other panels also have found shortcomings in preparedness for another terrorist attack.

The latest report was released as the Senate sent President Bush a $94.5 billion emergency spending bill that included funds for new aid for Gulf Coast hurricane victims.

The review noted several failings on the federal government's part, citing a need for clearer guidance and up-to-date preparedness data to state and local officials. It also urged better collaboration with private businesses to help evacuate disabled people and with charities and other non-governmental services to stockpile aid for disaster victims.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)