September 11, 2006

Officials see improvement but worry about funds

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

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

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

Tuscarawas County has received $1.8 million in combined homeland security and  bioterrorism funding since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade  Center and Pentagon.

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

     “I think we’re more prepared than we were prior to the terrorism issues  in New York and Washington,” said Patty Levengood, director of the Tuscarawas  County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

“Are we completely prepared? I don’t think you can ever be completely  prepared,” she said.
   Key purchases in Tuscarawas County include a hazardous response truck that  replaces vans used in the past by the county’s hazardous response team.

The county also has spent money on a system that allows authorities to make  automated phone calls to areas that must be evacuated, decontamination  equipment for hospitals and computer software for the coroner’s office.

Although a terrorist attack remains a possibility, state health officials are  more focused on a major outbreak of disease.

   Steve Wagner, assistant chief for preparedness at the Ohio Department of  Health, said a flu pandemic is more likely than a terrorist attack in Ohio.

But he 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 impact of  decreases in annual federal terrorism funding in the past couple of years.

Since 2004, federal funding to Tuscarawas has dropped by 60 percent, to  $210,273 this year from $519,552 two years ago.

   “The money has helped tremendously,” Levengood said. “I hate to see it going  away because it has allowed us to get better prepared.”

But she added that, as far as she can tell, the federal funds have been  divided up fairly.
   “I think each county has been able to apply the money they have received for  the needs they have in their community,” she 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,  which they distribute to county emergency services agencies, and bioterrorism  funds passed out to county 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  attack or disaster.



          Homeland security       Bioterrorism

2002       87,590                 116,516

2003      360,369                 151,556

2004      352,549                 167,003

2005      242,023                 130,686

2006       73,505                 136,768

Tuscarawas total (homeland security,bioterrorism) 1,818,565
State total (homeland security, bioterrorism)   659,010,000

Source: Ohio Emergency Management Agency, Ohio Department of Health