Risky business | Exile on Jones Street | Indy Week
Pin It

Risky business 

Feds cut preparedness grants

A steep drop in federal homeland security grants and a new state system for passing the money on to local agencies has opened up a feud between the state and local emergency management officials, who are frustrated and bracing for a sudden loss of funds for projects.

Early this year, after being informed by the Department of Homeland Security that rather than divvying up grants by population, states would have to compete for the money, the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety put together a planning session in Southern Pines with local EMS, fire and law enforcement officials. The state eventually submitted a $207 million request covering dozens of projects, from better training to upgrades in communication gear. But DHS informed state officials in late May that North Carolina had aimed a little high and would see only about $20.3 million for local projects--less than one-tenth of the amount asked for and roughly half what the state got last year.

In the first week of August, disappointed state officials met with local EMS representatives to explain the shortfall and lay out a new procedure for distributing the federal money. Under the plan, the State Emergency Response Commission, an 18-member group of state officials and representatives from fire, law enforcement and EMS associations, would prioritize projects and decide how much money they'd get and who'd get it.

The move has been met with sharp criticism by emergency management officials. Last week, the North Carolina Emergency Management Association, the state's EMS professional organization, issued a position paper outlining its objections to the new system. Since 80 percent of the money is supposed to be passed through to local projects, the position paper says the new rules might not comply with federal law and describes the state's action as "an arbitrary and capricious absorption of funding with no local input."

Association President Randy Thompson, who is Brunswick County's EMS director, says he and many of his colleagues are worried that several multi-year projects will come to a standstill.

The problem with the new system, Thompson says, is that there is no mechanism for local agencies to appeal for funding. "There's no way for us to apply for it," he says.

The association wants the state to set up a system for local input. The total might be less than in years past, Thompson says, "but it's still [more than] $19 million."

State officials maintain that local agencies already weighed in on their priorities earlier this year when North Carolina's request was being compiled. Crime Control and Public Safety spokesperson Renee Hoffman says the reality is that projects will have to undergo more scrutiny. The objections being raised, she says, are the result of a small group of local agencies losing money they were used to receiving.

Hoffman says the reliability and predictability of federal homeland security money has been a concern since DHS was formed. At first, with no real system in place, DHS distributed money based on population. Criticized for shortchanging high-risk areas, this year DHS switched to a priority-based system and, with that, open competition among the states for funds. The new guidelines are weighted more toward preparing for and preventing acts of terrorism than natural disasters--though some improvements, like better communications systems, can aid both efforts.

But the upshot of the change is that North Carolina, not viewed as having a high risk of terrorist attack, is going to have to struggle to improve its share of DHS money in the future.

"We may not have a terrorist attack, and I hope we don't," Hoffman says. "But we darn sure are going to get a hurricane."

Both state and local officials agree on one thing--DHS has been lousy at communicating upcoming changes in policy. This year, Hoffman says, states had about 60 days to submit their proposal along with a prioritized list of local projects--hard to do when you've got 100 counties to consult. Since this was the first year states had to compete for the money, how proposals would be judged and prioritized by the feds was a huge question mark.

DHS did offer help in the form a handy, acronym-filled guide. It opens with the National Preparedness Goal, an amazing piece of Beltway committee work. In case you haven't memorized it, the NPG goes like this: "To achieve and sustain risk-based target levels of capability to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from major events, and to minimize their impact on lives, property, and the economy, through systematic and prioritized efforts by Federal, State, local and Tribal entities, their private and non-governmental partners, and the general public."

Don't you feel safer already?

Kirk Ross travels the state for CapeFearMercury.com and writes about state governance at ExileOnJonesStreet.com. He can be reached at editor@capefearmercury.com.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Exile on Jones Street

  • The GOP sacrifices N.C. citizens—for what?

    A national conversation is happening about what's going down here. It's as if Gov. McCrory and the Legislature don't realize there is a geographical limit to their supermajority superpowers.
    • Jul 17, 2013
  • Who will rein in the General Assembly?

    Who will rein in the General Assembly?

    As the session winds down and the fundraising for 2014 begins, the pressure to move to the right will increase.
    • Jun 19, 2013
  • Beware the bright shiny objects of the General Assembly

    Beware the bright shiny objects of the General Assembly

    When the mackerel are running, you take a shiny metal spoon with a hook on it and cast it in the water. It's a decent metaphor for the viral interaction of social media and outrageous legislation.
    • Apr 17, 2013
  • More »


Twitter Activity

Most Recent Comments

I think the best way to make sure you are getting the best deal on electrical rates, it to always …

by Katie Anderson on The cost of electricity is devastating Eastern North Carolina (Exile on Jones Street)

I keep hearing that we are going to receive A discount in our utility bill. Does anybody know when....

by Bill Patrick Lamanteer on The cost of electricity is devastating Eastern North Carolina (Exile on Jones Street)

I worked as a mobile collector for Utility Mobile Service, as a collector, I noticed, the bills were always higher …

by Rodger Vaughn on The cost of electricity is devastating Eastern North Carolina (Exile on Jones Street)

I live in robersonville n.c and the town charges .17 kw. I think its because the town is mostly black.something …

by Bill Patrick Lamanteer on The cost of electricity is devastating Eastern North Carolina (Exile on Jones Street)

The actuarial tables disagree with you. Don't blame me.
And, hell yeah there'll be a lot of reporting about the …

by Kirk Ross on The GOP sacrifices N.C. citizens—for what? (Exile on Jones Street)

Comments

I think the best way to make sure you are getting the best deal on electrical rates, it to always …

by Katie Anderson on The cost of electricity is devastating Eastern North Carolina (Exile on Jones Street)

I keep hearing that we are going to receive A discount in our utility bill. Does anybody know when....

by Bill Patrick Lamanteer on The cost of electricity is devastating Eastern North Carolina (Exile on Jones Street)

Most Read

  1. Drawn to Durham (Peripheral Visions)
  2. What Makes a Farm a Farm? (Back Talk)

© 2016 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation