Canton Repository

September 7, 2003

State only at start of anti-terror effort

Copley News correspondent

WASHINGTON — Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the state of Ohio and its counties and cities have received roughly $200 million in federal funds to help boost homeland security.

But how much safer is the Buckeye State as a result?

“We’re well prepared relative to what I know about the preparations in other parts of the country,” said Kenneth Morckel, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

But he added that the road to security will be a long one.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine-inning ballgame,” he said.

Since the assault on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the federal government has spent or distributed billions of dollars to states and localities to improve their ability to respond to a terrorist attack.

Partly as a result of the complicated nature of federal aid, state officials were unable to immediately provide a total of federal anti-terrorism funding allocated to Ohio. But based on past grant announcements and other sources of information, the state has received at least $185 million in the past two years.

That includes about $81 million to the state health department, $73 million to the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, $20 million to the State Fire Marshal, $10 million to the Office of Criminal Justice Services and almost $1 million to Ohio Emergency Medical Services.

Millions more dollars have gone to Ohio in the form of aid to individual cities, bringing the total to about $200 million.

But it’s also true that some local agencies have been slower than others to spend the funds they receive, a fact that some blame on not knowing what to get.

Stark County has been slow, partly because it has tried to spend the money wisely, said Ed Cox, coordinator of the Stark County Emergency Management Office.

According to state figures, $1.3 million has been allocated to the county since last year, but first responders in Stark have only begun to purchase equipment.

Counties receive anti-terrorism funds from several sources, and in some cases this produces uncertainty.

For instance, while Cox oversees the grant to purchase equipment for first responders, two other streams of money, one administered by the state and the other straight from the federal government, also provide terrorism funding to some fire departments in the county.

“Everybody goes out and does their own thing ... their activities are not coordinated at a central point that I know of, so how are we going to make sure we’re not duplicating or wasting money,” Cox said.

In response, Morckel, the state public safety director, said information on the local grants is detailed on a state Web site, which is available to emergency management directors and the public.

Local officials can call other agencies in the county to find out how money is being spent, he said.

“I would hope ... there’s enough local cooperation to take care of that” in a county, he added.

State and local officials involved in the effort to build a defense against terrorism say the state is clearly better prepared in terms of planning, communications and preparation.

But without knowing in what form an attack might come, it is difficult to measure the level of readiness, they add.

“Our first responders are better prepared, and we’re working on making them even better prepared,” said Cox, who is overseeing the purchase of $187,000 worth of masks, respirators, protective suits and other equipment for police, fire and emergency medical personnel in the county.

In nearby Tuscarawas County, Patty Levengood, emergency director, said first responders are being equipped with protective equipment and some training sessions have been held.

“It’s going to take time ... but we’re making progress,” she said.

Dale Shipley, director of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, points to the response to last month’s blackout as one indication that progress has been made.

When the outage limited the water available to fight fires in Cleveland, 34 tankers from neighboring fire departments provided backup within hours.

Shipley said the quick response showed improvement in the ability of agencies to work together and coordinate resources.

Arnold Howitt, director of the research program on domestic terrorism at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, believes terrorism preparation efforts across the nation have borne fruit.

“Personnel are better trained. They have more equipment. They’ve been developing emergency response plans. There’s a lot more communication between police and fire,” he said.

Still, it will take time and continued funding to develop and maintain an effective defense, he said.

“It’s going to be a gradually developed capability. We need to be thinking more about programs of investment that have multi-year dimensions,” he said.

While a large share of the funding has gone to first responders such as police and fire, another stream is directed at state health departments, which allocate some of the money to local health departments.

In Stark County, the Canton City Health Department has used its $239,156 allocation to develop an emergency plan, purchase computers and laptops, and hire epidemiologists and additional staff to serve Canton and other health departments in the county.

Jim Adams, director of environmental health at the agency, said a key accomplishment has been improving the ability of health-care workers, law enforcement and others to communicate and collaborate in an emergency.

“That is new for the public health system,” he said.

In Tuscarawas County, Vickie Ionno, director of nursing at the county health department, also sees progress.

“Everyone is on the same page with what we would do,” she said. “We’ve gotten to meet one another. Each one knows they have a role to play.”

The agency has upgraded its computer system and hired a part-time nurse to serve as an educator and liaison with first responders with the $116,516 in funding it received from the state.

Meanwhile, the state health department is developing a secure, high-speed communications and data network to link the state with local health departments.

The state has added epidemiologists and improved its disease reporting system, increasing the chances of detecting a bioterrorist attack or outbreak of disease, said Steve Wagner, bio-terrorism coordinator in the state health department.

“It helps for terrorism, but it also helps what we do day to day,” he said.