Funds to prepare for terrorism held up?

By Jon Dougherty

More than a year after the 9-11 attacks, federal red tape has prohibited local governments, police departments and emergency medical services from receiving funds promised by Washington to help communities prepare for future terrorist attacks, critics charge.

“Our folks are so frustrated by this that they are now pondering a request for just body bags and asking the fools at [the Justice Department] to come along so there are enough folks to bury the dead,” said Mike McNulty, producer of a series of video documentaries about Waco and head of COPS – Citizens Organization for Public Safety – in a letter to Tim Flannigan, deputy White House counsel.

McNulty, of Collins, Colo., said he has been attempting to help local authorities find emergency gear – gas masks, biohazard suits, boots and gloves – so they would be protected as first responders in an attack.

But, he told WorldNetDaily in an interview, funds promised to local communities now seem mired in bureaucracy, even though federal officials “have been encouraging local governments to get better prepared” and say grant funds are being distributed.

“It’s like some agencies of government still aren’t on a war footing, though it’s been a year since the attacks,” said McNulty, who has experience in local disaster planning.

However, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency – the primary disaster response agency on the federal level – officials announced Sept. 6 that FEMA was prepared to distribute $225 million in disaster preparedness funds to municipalities.

The money will be provided “in grants to help state and local responders and emergency management become better prepared to respond to acts of terrorism and other emergencies and disasters,” said a statement released by the agency.

“This funding will give state and local communities a down payment on resources to modernize plans and strengthen preparedness nationwide,” said FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh. “These planning steps are critical to supporting first responders and preparing for all kinds of disasters.”

Of the $225 million, $100 million will be provided for updating plans and procedures to respond to all hazards, with a focus on weapons of mass destruction, FEMA said.

The agency also will provide $56 million in 2002 funds to upgrade state Emergency Operations Centers, as well as $7 million for secure communications, $5 million to begin laying the groundwork for a National Mutual Aid System, and $32.4 million for weapons of mass destruction training for FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue task forces.

“States and territories will receive a base allocation and then must submit grant proposals for additional funding,” said FEMA – and therein lies the problem, added McNulty.

“It seems strange,” McNulty wrote in his letter, “but would the federal government have delayed the response to the attack at Pearl Harbor by a year or two until grant requests had been processed?”

The DOJ agency that handles emergency preparedness for state and local governments is the Office of Domestic Preparedness. According to ODP, Colorado is slated to receive $5.2 million.

“The [funds] awarded by the Department’s Office of Justice Programs, will be used to purchase specialized equipment for emergency response agencies, including law-enforcement personnel, fire and emergency medical services and hazardous-materials response units, who are the first responders to terrorist acts involving weapons of mass destruction,” said a Sept. 23 statement. It said the funds were awarded under the State Domestic Preparedness Program.

To qualify for the funding, “states, territories and the District of Columbia first had to conduct a comprehensive assessment of risk, capabilities and needs related to a potential terrorist attack, develop a multi-year Statewide Domestic Preparedness Strategy and apply for their FY 2001 domestic preparedness equipment funds,” said the Office of Justice Programs.

But McNulty, in his letter, charged that “the entire allotment for Colorado is being held up” due to bureaucratic red tape, adding he believed it was safe to assume “the other 49 states are in the same sinking boat.”

OJP officials did not return calls for comment.

Other groups also have begun criticizing the federal government’s domestic security plans.

Dr. Jane M. Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, called “too little, too late” a Centers for Disease Control plan to withhold smallpox vaccines until an outbreak is discovered.

“The CDC must be in deep denial,” Orient said in a statement on Thursday. “They may have elaborate paper plans to provide for parking and bathroom facilities at mass immunization sites. But these plans will be too little, too late, even if they don’t collapse completely in a crisis.

“Thousands will die,” she predicted.

And Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said this week that communities across the country still needed to figure out how to coordinate responses to terror attacks and natural disasters.

“Every disaster that happens really is local,” Kingston said. “Even in New York City [on Sept. 11], it was the local people basically on the front lines.”

“You can quarantine a building for anthrax, but if it’s smallpox, you have to quarantine people,” he said, after discussing a bill he planned to introduce next week calling for more money to send “to existing regional councils across the country to work out plans for directing traffic out of an area or making sure that all first-responders across a region know which fire station owns a specific, high-tech piece of equipment,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In April, the General Accounting Office released a study saying the integration of federal, state and local agencies to build an effective response mechanism to terrorism was “critical.”

Meanwhile, Orient’s group has called for advance volunteer immunizations and has “warned local officials to develop an aggressive strategy to stockpile medical supplies, monitor public places and refine reporting and deployment systems,” the statement said.

CDC officials have said they don’t want to initiate mass immunizations without an outbreak because smallpox vaccines could be lethal to a number of people, but Orient dismissed those concerns as “a red herring.”

“Children are routinely required to take vaccines against diseases much less serious than smallpox despite comparable side effects,” she said.

Because smallpox was eradicated globally in 1980, federal health officials say the occurrence of even one case would lead authorities to suspect a bioterrorist attack.

Only two countries – the U.S. and Russia – are known to possess smallpox virus in laboratories, but other nations could be developing “weaponized” versions of the virus, U.S. intelligence sources have said.

“There is no civil defense in this country, hasn’t been for years,” McNulty wrote. “We hope someone will exercise some leadership and get this show on the road before Saddam decides to do his own pre-emptive strike.”

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