Local News

State, Local Projects In Jeopardy With Homeland Security Changes

Posted February 17, 2006

— An effort by the Department of Homeland Security to reduce wasteful spending could put North Carolina in jeopardy.

In the past, the federal government has handed out grants to fight terrorism based on population. Now, the money will be doled out based on need -- leaving communities, such as Chatham County empty-handed.

"It's very competitive now, across 50 states and jurisdictions," said North Carolina Emergency Management branch manager Joe Fitzpatrick. "We're all competing for a piece of the pie."

Not only do counties have to compete for funding, but the state has to fight for its needs as well. At stake is a $190 million state-of-the-art radio system called VIPER, which allows state and federal agencies to communicate with local jurisdictions.

The state was depending on Homeland Security grants to fund most of the project. Now, $64 million into the program, those grants are no longer a guarantee.

And another change is what some call the Katrina and Rita effect. The hurricanes dominated so many headlines that the anti-terrorism money will now help fund natural disaster response.

That's fine with disaster preparedness consultant Craig Marks, who feels Homeland Security funding should be spent that way, despite the criticism over trailers, sport utility vehicles and laptop computers.

"The things we can do to prepare for any hazard will better prepare us for terrorism," Marks said.

Because of North Carolina's hurricanes and military bases, the state may have a competitive advantage under the new rules. But the payday for smaller towns and counties may be over.

In addition to the spending changes, the Department of Homeland Security is focusing on regional efforts to fight terrorism and plan for disasters.


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