Canton Repository

September 11, 2006

Stark County gets $5.7 million to fight terror

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON Millions of dollars in federal funds have helped Stark County become better prepared for a terrorist attack or outbreak of disease.

But officials said they still have a long way to go and are concerned about the effect of shrinking federal dollars to counter terrorism.

Stark County has received $5.7 million in combined homeland security and bioterrorism funding since Sept. 11, 2001.

The money has been spent to equip police, fire and other first-responders with protective suits and equipment, to improve communications, to strengthen the public health system, develop response plans and train for an emergency.

“We are better prepared than we have ever been to respond to something like the Oklahoma City bombing or what we’ve seen in the sarin gas attacks in Japan,” said Tim Warstler, director of the Stark County Emergency Management Agency.

Both events occurred in 1995.

“We’re a lot better off than we were before,” agreed Canton Health Commissioner Robert Pattison.

Pattison said the county health community is better able to deal with a disease outbreak than a chemical or radiological attack, although officials are planning for any possibility.

State officials consider a flu pandemic more likely than a terrorist attack.

But Steve Wagner, assistant chief for preparedness at the Ohio Department of Health, said, “There’s always the potential of something like anthrax. We’ve taken significant efforts to prepare for that.”

Officials at all levels of government are concerned about the effect of decreases in annual federal terrorism funding in the past couple of years.

Since 2004, federal funding to Stark has dropped by almost two-thirds, to $601,223 this year from nearly $1.75 million two years ago.

“Funding, of course, is starting to become an issue,” Pattison said.

Wagner said state health officials “have had to significantly prioritize what it is we do, what it is we maintain and what (initiatives) we move forward (on) at the point we are now.”

Ken Morckel, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, said the state and counties “have to find other funding sources to maintain the basics of homeland security in Ohio.”

“Federal grants were always meant to be seed money to start programs, not money that was going to last forever,” he said.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, states have received homeland security funds that are distributed to county emergency services agencies and bioterrorism funds passed out to county health departments.

In Stark County, the Canton Health Department administers the bioterrorism funds, which are shared with three other health departments.

Officials said one of the most important things they have learned is that localities and the state will have to work together to respond to any future disasters.

“There’s much better coordination today than there was five years ago,” Warstler said. “It’s almost a cultural change realizing you have to rely on resources outside your control.”

Pattison said the health department has benefited from planning sessions with other officials, training and practice events.

Federal spending on security in Stark County

Year Homeland security Bioterrorism

2002 $167,905 $239,156

2003 $1,323,414 $359,215

2004 $1,355,620 $393,526

2005 $918,145 $313,964

2006 $261,843 $339,380

Stark total (homeland security bioterrorism): $5,672,168

Ohio total (homeland security, bioterrorism): $659,010,000

Source: Ohio Emergency Management Agency, Ohio Department of Health