Oklahoma Getting Less Federal Funding for Terrorism Prevention

Aug. 16-- After receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in homeland security funds since Sept. 11, 2001, Oklahoma has experienced a steep drop in homeland security funding in the past two years, records show.

During the 10-year period since the 9/11 attacks, Oklahoma has received about $206 million in federal funding for terrorism prevention and emergency response programs, according to data from Oklahoma's Office of Homeland Security.

Between 2003 and 2007, the state garnered about $30 million a year to create a regional response system and a seamless radio network for firefighters, police and other emergency workers across the state, said Kim Edd Carter, director of Oklahoma's Office of Homeland Security.

In 2011 the state is expected to receive $5.1 million in funding related to homeland security. Next year, that amount could drop to $2.5 million based on 2012 projections, Carter said.

While Carter sees this as a normal "winding" down of homeland security funding, he also expressed some concern over the loss of key initiatives due to decreased federal funding.

"We are not being picked on because other states are going through this," Carter said. "We also are not complaining, but the cuts will have an effect. We must decide which programs will be funded and which ones will be put on a diet."

Funding cuts will affect urban-area initiative grants in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Carter said.

The Tulsa program will be cut by $2.1 million, while Oklahoma City's program will get cut $4.4 million, he said.

For Tulsa, the cuts will affect equipment upgrades, compliance requirements and collaboration among first-responders in different areas, said Capt. R.B. Ellis, rescue coordinator of Tulsa Fire Department.

"There have been good strides in making our state a lot safer, but this will have an effect," Ellis said.

Tulsa's inventory of homeland security equipment includes several large trucks, specialized trailers, decontamination units and a K-9 unit, all capable of responding to terrorist events that could include chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons or explosives, Ellis said.

Carter was interviewed by the World to assess the state's preparedness level on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

Gov. Mary Fallin appointed Carter as the state's homeland security chief in February. Carter retired from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in 2007, he said.

Budget cuts aside, Carter said, the state's level of safety and preparation have been substantially improved.

"I really feel we are safer than 10 years ago for lots of reasons, and we certainly are better prepared," Carter said.

Oklahoma has allocated a large amount of its $206 million to two key security initiatives that include a regional response system and an 800 megahertz radio network.

The regional response system involves 108 trucks, trailers and equipment that can respond to a variety of emergency events, including chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosives, said Gary Davis, training and exercise coordinator for the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security.

At a cost of about $40.7 million, the response system involves specially equipped trucks and trailers being stationed within eight regions across Oklahoma.

While the primary focus of the system is terrorism prevention, responders can use the specialized equipment for natural or man-made disasters such as chemical spills, grass fires and severe weather, Davis said.

For example, the Tulsa Fire Department deployed 37 firefighters and its homeland security gear to Joplin, Mo., following the massive tornado that struck the area May 22, killing 160 people and destroying thousands of homes and businesses.

The equipment included the Urban Search and Rescue rig and accompanying trucks and gear. Costing $1.7 million, the "USAR" is a tractor-trailer with roll-up doors. The unit is equipped with shoring equipment, concrete saws and hydraulic spreaders to rescue people in a collapsed structure. Support trucks include four 1-ton trucks and a K9 unit with varying equipment, Ellis said.

Tulsa firefighters spent three days providing relief and support to Joplin-area residents, Ellis said.

"The equipment worked great and the experience we gained during the multi-day deployment to Joplin, you couldn't get that anywhere else," Ellis said.

Meanwhile, the 800 megahertz system provides a seamless frequency that connects first-responders along the I-44 corridor. The system brings additional, emergency coverage for 70 percent of the state's population from Lawton to Vinita, said Lacey Callahan, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security.

Known as the Oklahoma Wireless Information Network, the radio channel allows emergency workers to respond faster and to communicate with other jurisdictions during a multi-jurisdiction response.

Installing and maintaining the 800 meghertz system has cost about $61.7 million, Callahan said.

Homeland Security

Do you think the Department of Homeland Security has made America safer from terrorism?

Yes ...................60%

No .................... 36%

Don't know/refused .................4%

(Numbers have been rounded)

About the poll

SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific poll July 25-Aug. 11. Likely Oklahoma voters were selected at random and given the opportunity to participate in the poll by phone or online. Of the 587 respondents who participated, 17 took the survey online and 570 responded via telephone interview. The margin of error is 4.04 plus or minus percentage points.

Omer Gillham 918-581-8301

omer.gillham@tulsaworld.com

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