If terrorists are eyeing the high school in Hillsboro, Wi., a hamlet of 1,300 northwest of Madison, they will be confronted by a surveillance system and new door locks. Also serving as potential deterrents are traffic cones in Buffalo County and push brooms in Sturgeon Bay, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Those are some of the ways Wisconsin communities have spent millions of federal homeland security dollars. Most of that money, according to an analysis by the Journal Sentinel, has been spent in lightly populated areas where, officials admit, many facilities are being protected that have never been threatened with any violence, much less terrorism. The national Sept. 11 commission said spreading money around has turned homeland security grants into a “pork barrel” program for politicians.
Vicki Bier, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who is the lead risk analyst for the Homeland Security Center at the University of Southern California, said the “vast majority of small towns are in fact extremely safe from terrorism.” “Grants were awarded for purchases as small as $7.80 traffic cones in Buffalo County and $5.99 for two push brooms in Sturgeon Bay – items that were to supply larger emergency operations. In deciding what grants to seek, some agencies used a catalogue so vast that it’s known as “Disneyland for police officers and firefighters,” said one official. Some officials defended spending the federal money away from the state’s population centers. Many communities could not afford vital emergency equipment without the grants, said Lori Getter of state Department of Emergency Management. She and other officials acknowledged that many purchases were not made strictly to combat terrorism.