Thanks to federal taxpayers, Zanesville, in Southeastern Ohio’s Muskingum County (population 85,000), has a hazardous-materials trailer with a $13,500 thermal imager to help find victims in heavy smoke; an $800 thermal heat gun to test the temperature of gases that might ignite; a $1,250 test kit for deadly nerve agents; a$1,300 monitor to gauge oxygen and carbon monoxide levels; four air packs at $3,800 each, four chemical suits at $875 apiece, and more. “This has been better than Christmas,” USA Today quotes a county official as saying.
Small cities and towns are spending billions of dollars from the Department of Homeland Security while officials in places like New York City and Los Angeles, considered more likely terrorist targets, complain they are getting only a small fraction of what they need. Some members of Congress are questioning whether the federal government should be paying to outfit remote firehouses and police stations.
“America cannot afford to provide every firehouse, every police department and every hospital emergency room with every piece of equipment and every training program on their wish lists,” says Randall Larsen of the consulting firm Homeland Security Associates. Tom Ridge, homeland security secretary, has urged Congress to direct more money to high-threat areas.
At issue is how to divide $2 billion a year to help equip and train firefighters, police officers and other emergency workers. Congress guaranteed every state a share. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who insisted on the formula, touts his state’s haul: more than $20 million for emergency workers, rising to $37 million by the end of 2004.
USA Today asks whether a small city like Zanesville needs a radiation detector and nerve agent test kit, whether Appleton, Wis., needs a fully outfitted bomb squad and whether Grand Forks, N.D., needs a semi-armored van and decontamination tents.
Zanesville once known as the “Pottery Capital of the World,” features a Y-shaped bridge with a stoplight in the middle that spans two rivers. “We don’t have any 100-story buildings,” Fire Chief Dave Lacy says. “But a four-story building falling on people is going to have the same effect.”
In New York City, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly tells chilling tales of terrorist plots. Emergency workers say they desperately need more money to protect a city still in al-Qaeda’s sights. Unless the funding formula is changed, says security expert Larsen, the nation will “spend ourselves into bankruptcy trying to protect against every car bomb.”