State of Louisiana EMPG budget grab — Governor vetoes cost sharing language for locals

28 06 2013

I am reprinting the article below from the IAEM Dispatch.  With federal funding for emergency management and homeland security activities dwindling, the focus of this Map-Louisianaarticle is very concerning.  Disasters happen at the local level.  That is plain and simple.  As pointed out in the headline, this appears to be a money grab by state officials that will harm the ability of local emergency managers in the State of Louisiana to prepare and respond to disasters.  Hopefully, this will not become a trend.


Update on State of Louisiana EMPG budget grab—Governor vetoes cost sharing language for locals

Many local emergency managers have followed the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) situation in Louisiana with great concern since we published articles regarding the Governor of Louisiana’s budget proposal on March 7 and on the testimony of the Director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) on March 14. Local emergency managers were encouraged when the state legislature added an amendment to the appropriations bill, HB1, to require a 50/50 split of the funding with local emergency managers. Jerry Sneed, deputy mayor for public safety and homeland security for New Orleans, provided the following update: “This February the State notified us of their plans to distribute only 20 percent of the 2013 EMPG to local emergency managers. With the change, the GOHSEP would reserve 80 percent to adequately fund their department. This was both a surprise and a dramatic change from previous year’s distribution, causing many locals to support a 50/50 allocation through HB 1, the bill funding state government. Last week we were shocked to see that the Governor, who has always been a strong supporter of local emergency managers, line item vetoed this 50/50 split. The new decision, to only send 35 percent to the local emergency managers and to allow GOHSEP to keep 65 percent of this grant, erodes the enormous strides we have made since Katrina and hinders the local ability to effectively manage events and emergencies. This action by the state of Louisiana on EMPG also underlines the concerns of locals regarding the pending Department of Homeland Security FY 2014 budget proposal that would consolidate the homeland security grants. This proposal if accepted by Congress would give more control to the states and send us in the wrong direction.”

Napolitano to remain at DHS

22 01 2013

As written by Mark Rockwell and published by Government Security News on January 15th, 2013:

Current DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano will remain in her post for president Obama’s second term, according to White House officials. Napolitano has been DHS Secretary since 2009. She may become a key player in Obama’s second term, as the administration has vowed to pursue comprehensive immigration reform in the coming weeks.

Senior administration officials have floated plans to overhaul the immigration system and have said the strategy would include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. The new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee welcomed the White House announcement that Napolitano would remain at DHS.

“The Department of Homeland Security faces many challenges in maintaining its ability to protect the American people,” said committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) in a statement on Jan. 14. “From the threat of cyber attacks to securing our border and transportation systems, DHS plays a critical role in developing and executing domestic policy. I look forward to working with Secretary Napolitano, and hope that she and this administration will commit to reforming DHS to be more efficient and effective in strengthening our defenses against terrorism, both from overseas and here at home.”

Homeland Security Grants to Cities Soon to Suffer More Deep Cuts

30 12 2011

The following article depicts a less than pretty picture for homeland security grant funding in the near future.  Many federal programs budgets are being slashed, and homeland security programs are not immune from the cuts.  Fort Bend County is part of the Houston Urban Area, which is one of the 11 Tier 1 UASI regions in the United States.  This means that it is likely a homeland security revenue stream will still come to Fort Bend in 2012, but it is likely to be at a much reduced amount of funding.

Over the years, Fort Bend County OEM has utilized its federal grant funds wisely, focusing on utilizing homeland security money for needed equipment and and systems; perhaps some jurisdictions in the United States have not effectively used grant funds, as suggested by Eric Holdeman, in the article below, but that is not the case in Fort Bend County.  Instead Fort Bend County has utilized available federal funding to purchase items that were both NEEDED and that would not be financially obtainable without the federal aid.

The Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management uses an “all-hazards” approach for protecting the County from threats.  Such an approach means that we are working on projects designed to project our citizens from all type of hazards (e.g. chemical spills, hurricanes, river flooding,etc…), not just terrorism hazards.  Clearly, much federal money has been made available to local governments to combat unseen terrorism threats.  However, it is imperative that investments in emergency management deliver a tangible benefit on a daily basis not just potential benefit in the relatively unlikely event of an attack in Fort Bend County.

Improving outdated radio equipment used by the County’s first responders has been a primary focus of homeland security expenditures in the County.  As many are well aware, lack of interoperable communications equipment compounded the problems in New York City on September 11, 2011.  However, using the federal funds to purchase new state-of-the-art radio equipment for our first responders facilitates effective response during a terrorist attack OR during daily routine.  The same equipment used to respond daily to accidents and crime scenes is exactly the same equipment that will be used during disasters caused by terrorists.  The key is to find dual-benefit solutions; Fort Bend County has done exactly that.

“Killing two birds” with one stone is the concept of a dual-benefit solution— an armored vehicle used by SWAT during a hostage situation can also be used by EMS crews to rescue injured citizens in them midst of hurricane force winds.  Developing two hazardous materials response teams in the County provides for quick and effective response to 18-wheelers that overturn on US 59, but the equipment and trained firefighters, doubling as trained haz-mat response experts, stand ready if an Oklahoma City bombing situation occurs in our area.  Prior to the development of a County-wide Hazardous Materials Response Team, responders would have to wait 30 or 45 minutes for a team to respond from the City of Houston.  In a County of almost 600,000 citizens, such a response time is unacceptable.  Instead, grant funds were effectively used to meet the intent of the DHS program while also assisting in everyday emergency management situations.

This article from Andrea Stone, Huffington Post, was published yesterday.  It is a pretty fair read on the situation.  We are definitely in time where budgets are lean and elected officials have to struggle to allocate limited resources against competing priorities.  As you read the article, please rest assured that the activities of Fort Bend County, led by County Judge Bob Hebert, are undertaken with the specific goal of enhancing security in the long-term, while simultaneously delivering benefit to daily operations.

When the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapse in 2007, a specially equipped urban search and rescue team based in the Twin Cities responded immediately, precious hours before a unit from Chicago could arrive.

When a lone deranged gunman shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 18 others in a supermarket parking lot last January, Tucson police monitored the chaotic scene with a real-time aircraft-to-land video link.

And when a devastating tornado destroyed Joplin, Mo., in May, a mobile command vehicle based in Kansas City rushed there to help coordinate the response.

In every case, federal grant money intended to help urban areas plan, equip and train for a terrorist attack was used to respond to the non-terrorist emergency. Now, a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, deep cuts in funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative  (UASI) threaten to leave those cities and dozens of other smaller population centers without the money to maintain programs into which the federal government has already sunk millions of tax dollars.

It’s already happened in Tucson. In October, the city shut down the reverse 911 notification system paid for with UASI funds. Police have advised residents to check for alerts on Twitter– even though most don’t use the social networking site.

Advocates for continued funding warn of a not-too-distant future filled with mothballed, broken and outdated equipment; unemployed and expensively trained intelligence analysts; and fewer training exercises for first responders. A recent report by the UASI managers group argued that the federal government has “an equity stake” in improved local and state radio communications, information sharing, hazardous material response and regional planning and that it is not in the interests of taxpayers to see them “wither and eventually evaporate over time.”

“Whether it’s a bridge collapse or a skyscraper coming down, a natural or man-made disaster, tornado or terrorist — it’s the same kind of response,” said Bill Anderson, a Minneapolis emergency manager who heads the National UASI Association. “It’s crazy that DHS would bring people to this level of preparedness and then cut them off and walk away.”

But others are pleased that Congress has cut spending that they say has spiraled out of control.

“UASI funding should be directed to those urban areas at greatest risk, not spread far and wide to satisfy each mayor, governor or congressman’s inherent desire to have the maximum amount of homeland security funding,” said Daniel Kaniewski, deputy director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University and a former official in President George W. Bush’s White House. “The budget reality in Washington requires that scarce federal resources be allocated according to risk profiles, not wish lists.”

Until recently, Congress has granted the wishes of emergency managers from Bridgeport, Conn., to Oxnard, Calif. Since 2003, the UASI program has handed out $6.5 billion — most of it initially to 10 “Tier I” metro areas considered at the greatest risk of terrorist attack: New York, Washington, Los Angeles/Long Beach, Chicago, Houston, the San Francisco Bay area, Jersey City/Newark, Philadelphia, Boston and Dallas/Fort Worth.

Once the gravy train left the station, though, lawmakers and officials in 54 smaller, second-tier cities clamored for and received money to buy new equipment, conduct training and create regional information-sharing organizations known as fusion centers. Suddenly, places like Bakersfield, Calif.; Salt Lake City; Toledo; Memphis and El Paso, Texas — hardly obvious al Qaida targets — were getting millions.

“Everybody and his brother got a shiny new command vehicle, a communications van, patrol vessels, fire and police boats,” said Eric Holdeman, former emergency manager for Seattle and the surrounding King County. “It’s going to be very hard to sustain a lot of these.”


Especially now. In the 2011 budget, Congress cut 33 “Tier II’ cities from the program, including Providence, R.I.; Omaha, Neb.; and Sacramento. Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Albany were zeroed out in New York state, leaving only New York City in UASI.

More cuts are expected in 2012. Under the recently passed spending bill for DHS, state and local grants will be reduced by about $1 billion. The remaining $959 million in homeland security grants will be divvied up among at least nine different programs covering everything from port security to emergency medical response.

The legislation specifies that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano allocate no less than $100 million for “areas at the highest threat of terrorist attack.” Joshua Filler, a former DHS official who helped create UASI, recently wrote that while it was “reasonable” to assume that money would go to urban areas, Napolitano has discretion to distribute it “according to threat, vulnerability and consequence.”

Napolitano isn’t expected to announce a decision until late February. But many observers expect DHS will shrink the program back to the original 10 metro areas. That would leave Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Miami and Seattle among those left out in the cold, with smaller metro areas already feeling the sting of budget cuts in areas such as bio-terrorism preparedness.

Democrats have railed against reduced funding. Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo has said the cuts pose “the potential of creating gaping holes in regions making significant contributions to our national security.”

Anderson and other UASI managers have asked Napolitano to allot $600 million for urban area grants, including $60 million for “sustainment and preservation of the capabilities developed over the past decade” in cities no longer eligible for funding in 2012.

But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and critics in Congress question the value of UASI grants. They say there has been little research into their effectiveness and even less oversight. Many point to millions in “unspent” grants sitting in city coffers, despite the fact that cities are given three years to spend grant money for services or equipment that has yet to be delivered.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, whose Long Island district lost more than 150 constituents on 9/11, has said it is time to stop spending money on low-risk regions of the country and instead concentrate increasingly scarce resources on big cities that remain the main targets of terrorists. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, also defended the cuts, arguing that “more government and more spending does not necessarily equal more security.”

“It never made sense for these grants to turn into permanent subsidies,” said Benjamin Friedman, a research fellow in homeland security studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “If states and localities think they need more emergency response capability or port security or whatever, then they ought to pay for it themselves. They have a better sense of what the relative priorities are.”


Supporters of continued funding point out that Osama bin Laden had been urging his followers to target smaller cities when he died and that recent terrorism suspects grew up or lived in American suburbs. They insist it is naive to think state and local governments walloped by the recession can fill the gap left by a cutoff of federal funds.

Before 9/11, counterterrorism was almost exclusively a federal issue. Today, in part due to federal homeland security grant programs like UASI, every state and 22 major urban areas have fusion centers, where analysts from local, state and federal agencies sift through and interpret threat data. Several big-city police departments, most controversially in New York, have set up their own intelligence divisions. The infusion of federal money also has contributed to an unwelcome militarization of police departments, which have bought Army-style armored personnel vehicles to use for crowd control and drug sweeps.

Despite some questionable purchases, Filler, the former DHS official, pointed out that UASI funds have played a small but critical role in securing cities against man-made and natural disasters by giving them “certain exotic capabilities they could not otherwise afford.” New York’s bomb squad used a UASI-funded remote-controlled robot to handle a car bomb in Times Square. Minneapolis has blasted federally funded sirens to warn of impending tornadoes. Miami purchased a fireboat to handle emergencies on cruise ships in its port.

By far the biggest chunk of UASI funds, $1.2 billion, has gone toward interoperable communications that allow first responders from different jurisdictions to talk to each other during emergencies. The 9/11 Commission Report cited construction of wireless networks as a top priority, and major cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have deployed systems with help from the federal government. But smaller cities are still playing catch-up and worry funding cuts will reverse the progress they’ve made.

New Orleans was one of the first UASI cities to upgrade after a lack of interoperable communications during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina hobbled rescue efforts already struggling with the wholesale destruction of electrical networks and cell towers. Since then, new national standards for public safety communications have been introduced, but the city was cut from UASI in 2011 and doesn’t have the $36 million it needs to upgrade its equipment, said New Orleans’ UASI project manager, Robert Williams.

Bob Maloney, director of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management in Baltimore, said his city spent $10 million in UASI money to build compatible regional communications with enough redundancy to work even if part of the system is knocked out. But with Baltimore on the list of cities that could be cut from the program and with Maryland facing a projected 2012 budget shortfall of $1.4 billion, Maloney doesn’t know where he will find the $850,000 he needs each year just to maintain the system. “It’s disastrous,” he said.

“Everything has a shelf life. People retire, equipment fades,” Filler said. “Investing in these capabilities and then to turn it basically off is to guarantee you’re going to lose the capability over time. The reason the feds invested in these in the first place is that they knew state and local governments couldn’t do it and needed it.”


To Holdeman, who blogs about disaster management, the drawdown in homeland security funding a decade after 9/11 parallels the tale of the federal government’s Cold War civil defense program. All the fallout shelters stocked with food and water “just kind of wasted away,” he said, as the threat of nuclear annihilation waned. “The U.S. mentality is not one of sustainment,” Holdeman said. “We don’t have the persistence to maintain a long-term effort.”

Tim Johnstone runs the central California fusion center, a multi-agency operation that covers 34 counties from the Oregon border to Bakersfield. It not only collects and synthesizes information but trains intelligence analysts and police who handle community outreach to religious and ethnic minorities. One-quarter of the center’s $2.4 million operating budget comes from UASI, but that will run out in 2013 because Sacramento was dropped from the program in 2011. Unless he can find an extra $850,000, Johnstone will have to lay off analysts and cancel training.

“It is time we reprioritize and stop buying gas masks, mobile command vehicles and fire trucks, and focus on prevention, education and information sharing in a sustainable model,” Johnstone said. “These cuts will take us backwards [to] a time that is as dangerous threat-wise as prior to 9/11.”

Friedman, the Cato researcher, isn’t worried. “The odds of a terrorist attack in most parts of the country, even in most urban areas, are so low that I don’t think [UASI is] a particularly good investment,” he said.

That attitude is taking over, Holdeman warned.

“Advocacy for homeland security will continue to dwindle — until the next attack,” he recently wrote. “20 years from now emergency managers will tell their children and grandchildren about the heyday of homeland security funding from 2003-2010. At Christmas they will relate how the money flowed in great streams, nay rivers of funding. There were trucks, mobile command posts, bomb robots, chemical detectors and all sorts of suits. It was a wonderful time of toys for boys.”

Fort Bend Sheriff’s Office Open House To Showcase Emergency Communications Center

11 01 2011

The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office is holding an open house tomorrow at 10 a.m. to showcase its new emergency communications center.  The $4 million complex will house 15 call-taker stations, 12 radio stations and a training room.

The new communications center is scheduled to go live on Wednesday.

A portion of the renovation was paid with grant funds through the Department of Homeland Security and administered by the Texas Terrorism Task Force. The funding is designed to upgrade the radio equipment. 

During the open house, other vendors and organizations that will be present include Greater Houston 911, Verint Technologies, Fisk, Turner Construction and Motorola.  The open house will be held from 10 a.m. to noon and tours of the facility will be given.

Preparing for Active Shooter Incidents

24 09 2010

It appears that there seems to be a growing trend of shootings across the United States.  The Department of Homeland Security has recently issued information about Active Shooter incidents:

Recent shooting incidents at various locations of the United States seem to indicate rising violence at work places, and even at hospitals that were once considered safe havens.  However, the Emergency Management and Response—Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EMR-ISAC) has no credible evidence of a valid trend or pattern regarding active shooters.  Yet such threats still exist and it is best to prepare for the potential of a shooter , especially at places of work.

According to the Department of Homeland Security “Active Shooter” booklet (PDF, 984 KB), an active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.  The booklet states: “In most cases, there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.”

The booklet further explains that active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly.  Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims.  “Because active shooter incidents are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation.”

 The EMR-ISAC verified that the booklet provides guidance to individuals, including responders, managers, and employees, who may be caught in an active shooter situation.  It also discusses how to react when law enforcement arrives at the incident scene.  Another useful source of information on this subject is the Mass Shooting/Active Shooter First Responder Awareness Card (PDF, 35 KB).

Speaker at the Upcoming Fort Bend County Emergency Preparedness Workshop Chosen to Serve On Federal Task Force

17 03 2010

Lyda Ann Thomas, Mayor of the City of Galveston, is one of the keynote speakers at the soon approaching 4th Annual Fort Bend County Emergency Preparedness Workshop.   The Workshop will be held on Saturday, May 8th, at the Stafford Centre, 10505 Cash Road, Stafford, Texas from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.  Mayor Thomas was selected to be one of the primary speakers for the Workshop so she could discuss her experiences during Hurricanes Rita and Ike.

It was just announced this week that Mayor Thomas has been chosen to serve on a federal task force charged with making recommendations about federal policies on disaster preparedness and response.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the parent organization of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, invited Thomas to serve on a committee that will evaluate which federal policies and guidance on disaster preparedness need updating; the most appropriate process to update those policies; which grant programs work the most efficiently; where programs can be improved; and the most appropriate way to assess the government’s strengths and weaknesses in preparing for disasters.

The Task Force’s first meeting is in April in Boston.  “My membership will be good for Galveston …” Thomas says. “Hopefully, changes will be made that will be important for our disaster planning in the future.”  Thomas is a frequent speaker at hurricane and emergency preparedness workshops.  Last year, she traveled to Cuba to learn more about how that country prepares for hurricanes.

Fort Bend County is excited that Mayor Thomas will be visiting our Workshop to provide her insights— not only on her local hurricane experiences, but now about federal policies affecting disaster preparedness and response.  Please block out your calendar to come to the Emergency Preparedness Workshop and to see Mayor Thomas speak!  For more information on the Workshop, please send me a note.

Rosenberg Fire Department to Receive DHS Grant

13 03 2009

The Texas Government Insider (Friday, March 13, 2009) reports that the City of Rosenberg Fire Department is set to receive a grant totaling over $159,000 through the Department of Homeland Security as part of its Assistance to Firefighters Grant program.  The funding will help ensure first responders at the fire department will have access to necessary resources.