Each county sets up a group made up of law enforcement, fire and health officials to decide how the money should be spent.
Purchases that have a regional benefit get priority.
"The Homeland Security dollars have greatly enhanced our ability to be prepared for an event," said Denise Benson, manager for the San Bernardino County Fire Department's Office of Emergency Services.
The county is planning a large, full-scale training exercise soon, involving hundreds of people. Without Homeland Security money, the exercise would be impossible, she said.
The county has bought communications vehicles, hazardous materials vehicles, protective gear including suits, masks and boots, satellite phones and computers among other things, she said.
"It's basically to enhance our first responder capability," Benson said.
Ontario International Airport has spent more than $28 million in salaries, equipment and infrastructure relating to security since 9/11. Projects under way, including the replacement of baggage screening equipment, perimeter fencing and surveillance cameras are projected to cost $744 million throughout Los Angeles World Airports.
"Our infrastructure, security and safety personnel response has definitely changed," said Ontario International spokeswoman Maria Tesoro-Fermin.
The Transportation Security Administration reimbursed the Ontario airport more than $500,000 to purchase bomb-sniffing dogs and train officers to handle them, Tesoro-Fermin said.
Changes made after the terrorist attacks also rippled to local law enforcement agencies.
"I think the issue before was whether law enforcement was connecting the dots at the local, state and federal level. There are information clearinghouses today that were not clearly identified before," said Ontario police Lt. John Evans.
The tips local law enforcement has sent to state and federal agencies can range anywhere from money laundering to theft of explosives, Evans said.
The San Bernardino Police Department has received about $750,000 in the last five years for equipment and training in counterterrorism, and every officer in the department has gone through some sort of counterterrorism training, Lt. Mark Garcia said.
A detective has been assigned to a joint terrorism task force and a lieutenant has oversight of all homeland security issues in the city, making sure officers are briefed about potential threat assessments and have the right training and gear, Garcia said.
Most of the training has been done in-house, and federal officials have also come to the department to train officers on incident command systems, Garcia said.
In terms of policing culture, not much has changed.
"Obviously, it requires us to be more diligent about potential targets," Garcia said.
While the scope of police work at the street level has remained pretty much status quo, new law enforcement tools have been introduced that have gotten a warm reception.
Redlands Police Chief Jim Bueermann is enthusiastic about the imminent launching of the Red Channel, a countywide radio communications system that will link law enforcement personnel from the West End to the eastern reaches.
Theoretically the system, purchased by local and county agencies pooling their federal anti-terror grants, will allow instant communications in the event of a terror attack anywhere in the county.
Practically, it will mostly be used to combat old-fashioned crimes like bank robberies, kidnappings and drug trafficking that cross local jurisdictions.
Before 9/11, most federal money was directed toward community policing programs. Now, it goes to disaster preparedness.
Therein lies the gift and the curse of local law enforcers in the post 9/11 era: They get some anti-terror funding, but with stipulations to direct it toward reacting to crises that may never materialize.
"My biggest concern is how we balance the need for enhancing our domestic security while not losing sight of the notion of community policing," Bueermann said. "We can't lose sight of the gains of trust between America's local law enforcers and police and the communities we serve."