State gets anti-terror windfall

By NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mississippi has spent nearly $315 million in federally funded anti-terrorism efforts since Sept. 11, 2001.
That’s roughly $106 per resident in a state at low risk for a terrorist attack.
Yet since 9/11, the federal government has distributed $35 billion in preparedness grants to help the nation prevent and respond to potential terrorist attacks, major disasters or other emergencies.
Sixty percent of those funds are based on population; the rest is spread evenly across the country. It comes primarily through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, launched in the wake of 9/11.
Mississippi’s allocations are funneled through the state Office of Homeland Security, which distributes its money to regional task forces, response teams and local agencies, said Grants Director Penny Corn.
Funds have been spent primarily to improve the state’s interconnected emergency communications system, equip and train first responders on a host of high-level threats and organize diverse agencies to join forces in case of a large-scale attack.
Northeast Mississippi falls into both Task Force One and Task Force Two, each of which have three individual response teams.
Tupelo heads up one of the response teams and, as such, has handled $1,791,593 in Homeland Security grants since 9/11, according to the Tupelo Finance Department. It has purchased a high-tech hazmat truck, bomb-detecting robots, collapse rescue training equipment and gobs of specialized training that it shares with partnering agencies.
Some equipment – like the bomb robots – have been used in real-life applications. But other items rarely are touched outside scheduled practice sessions.
Still, those involved in the programs insist it’s money well spent.
“This money was spawned … from the terrorist attack, but when that shock went away, the money was still there,” said Tupelo Fire Chief Thomas Walker. “And we do have equipment and we do have training for … any kind of terrorist attack, but we can also help with domestic catastrophes like hurricanes.”
Walker’s department used its training and equipment to respond to Hurricane Katrina, which alleviated pressure on the state National Guard. He said his staff also now is trained on handling chemical spills and flood rescues, as well as how to stabilize a collapsed building.
The Homeland Security program also has knit together previously scattered agencies that can work as one when big disasters of any kind strike, said Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton, whose department houses the bomb squad.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com