Experts have joined state and local officials to question the federal terror alert system, which places the nation under a general warning and drains resources from cash-strapped cities in the process, Governing Magazine reports. “It's stupid,” says Jamie Metzl of the Council on Foreign Relations. “It doesn't make sense to say that because there's a threat against the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, people need to take special precautions in Wichita.”
In a cover story headlined “Orange Crush,” Governing says that although states and cities are not required to react to Orange Alerts from Washington, many do. “When they go to a national alert, they have a valid reason for doing so,” says Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune. “If they go to orange, we have to do our duty.”
Much federal aid for first responders went to 30 cities chosen through a formula heavily weighted toward population density. Cleveland and Buffalo received money, for example; Las Vegas and Atlanta did not. Most federal aid is filtered through states, which can keep 20 percent for overhead costs.
At minimum, every city has a water supply and a few government buildings to protect. Cities point out another reason for complying with the alerts: deterrence. Even if putting a few Jersey barriers in place doesn't have a substantial effect on the state of preparedness, it may convey an image that the city is on top of things. Small cities are leery of becoming targets purely for lack of preparation. “Terrorists have said in the past in their target selection, why would we take on a lion when there's so many sheep to kill?” said one expert. “If the top 10 cities become the terrorists' lions, we don't want to become the sheep.”