Twelve years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Kansas City is stepping up its efforts to reclaim a place on the list of cities most threatened by terrorists and natural disasters.
By DAVE HELLING
The Kansas City Star
At stake: millions of dollars in federal grants for emergency equipment, training and response capability. The Kansas City area lost its place on the grant funding list two years ago, and wants back on the roster of vulnerable communities.
“It’s very crucial for us to keep our emergency response capability intact,” said John Sharp, chairman of the Kansas City Council’s Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee. “At least give us enough money to maintain our current ability to save lives.”
Some outsiders, though, say spending additional federal cash for terror preparations in this area would largely be a waste of time and resources.
“Cities like Kansas City (are) just not that much at risk, compared to other places,” said Matt Mayer, a former Homeland Security official now living in Ohio. “The federal taxpayer, given the level of risk in places like Kansas City, has already given enough.”
The grants at issue are part of the Urban Areas Security Initiative, a federal program designed to help cities considered vulnerable to a terror incident. Since 2003, the Kansas City area has received more than $70 million in the grants, money it has used to buy haz-mat suits, bomb squad gear, radiation detectors, even rescue boats and communications equipment.
But two years ago — facing massive budget deficits — Washington began pruning the list of grant-eligible cities, dropping Kansas City and dozens of other communities from the program. Instead, the government sent more cash to cities considered bigger terror targets, like New York and Washington, D.C.
The decision continues to worry Kansas City Mayor Sly James and others who say the city’s emergency supplies and training are falling out of date.
This summer James joined with mayors from Las Vegas, New Orleans and other midsized cities in writing a letter to Senate appropriators, asking for an expansion of the list of places eligible for the urban areas security grants.
“Recent events have shown that soft targets and homegrown terrorism are part of the changing nature of terrorism facing us today and make many areas more vulnerable,” James and the other mayors wrote.
Other communities are making similar arguments. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, recently complained that Portland had been dropped from the list.
“The federal government has a responsibility to be a partner with our local communities,” he said. “Protecting our citizens from terrorist threats and moderating potential impacts from natural disasters.”
But in late August, the Department of Homeland Security announced nearly $559 million in the grants to just 25 cities, not including Kansas City or Portland. St. Louis received $3 million, as did Denver; Sacramento, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; Anaheim, Calif.; and Charlotte, N.C.
New York received $174.3 million; $51.9 million went to the Washington, D.C., area.
Kansas City hasn’t been completely shut out from federal emergency funding in recent years, officials admit. The area received a small Urban Areas Security Initiative grant last year, and it gets money from the state’s allocation for homeland security, although that spending has dwindled as well.
And the area could find itself the recipient of millions of dollars in federal security spending if it lands the 2016 Republican National Convention. Those funds could be used to buy equipment and training that could be used for years after the GOP event.
But the urban areas security program has long been considered a key funding source for emergency preparedness in cities. During a meeting last week at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Sharp asked Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, to help get grant money for the area.
Blunt said he would work on the issue.
Mayer, though, said Kansas City’s lobbying effort might easily be matched by other cities shut out of the grant funding — cities like Wichita and Omaha, Neb., that could claim a terror threat similar to Kansas City’s.
Once an exception is made for one city, he said, others will try to follow suit.
“This urban money is meant to mitigate terror threats, not tornadoes,” he said. “After all these years of funding, if there is still money needed and (your) city leaders believe that fervently, they should allocate city resources.”
To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.