Jan. 4--Is Memphis, Tenn., at greater risk of a terrorist attack than Virginia Beach? Or Norfolk? Or the entire Hampton Roads?
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security apparently believes it is. For the fourth year in a row, Hampton Roads was shut out of eligibility for Urban Area Security Initiative grants, according to a department announcement Tuesday.
Hampton Roads was passed over in favor of cities such as Memphis; Louisville, Ky.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Santa Ana, Calif.; the latter considered one of the safest communities in America, according to FBI crime statistics . In all, 46 metropolitan areas were put on the eligibility list to share
$765 million in 2006-07 federal anti-terrorism funds.
"I cannot conceive why we are not on it," said Arthur L. Collins, executive director of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, which manages some of the region's homeland security and medical preparedness grants.
"We're one of the biggest ports in the United States, we have the highest concentration of military, we're prone to hurricanes and nor'easters , but we don't fit the criteria?" Collins said. "We're at a loss to understand why."
Urban Area Security Initiative grants are intended to add protection to areas found to be at a higher risk of a terrorist attack. All of the major metropolitan areas, including New York, Chicago and Washington, have received millions in the past three years.
The money is provided on top of the federal government's major homeland security grant program. Police and fire departments also receive additional money through other protection programs. Hampton Roads cities, however, have been at the bottom of federal per-capita homeland security spending programs, according to a Virginian-Pilot analysis in late 2005.
The region has received more than $40 million in federal homeland security grant money since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Those grants have been spent on everything from protective gear for police and firefighters to increased port security. Every community in the country has received those funds.
The initiative funding is meant to bolster protection in areas that have more potential targets, such as the Pentagon in Northern Virginia.
Homeland security officials decide which cities or metropolitan areas receive urban protection funding based on a complicated threat and population analysis, Marc Short, a department spokesman, said Tuesday. The money is to be spent on equipment, training and security exercises.
For the 2006 budget, risk analysis played a greater role in determining which areas got money. Short would not explain why one region was chosen over another. But speaking generally, he said department analysts look at threat information gathered by government intelligence experts in determining areas that should receive funding.
Smaller metropolitan areas have been removed from the list from year to year. For example, Memphis got grant money in 2003 and 2004 but not in 2005, according to a Tennessee homeland security official.
Rick Shipkowski, deputy director of the Tennessee Governor's Office of Homeland Security, said Federal Express' worldwide air freight hub, located in Memphis, is a likely factor that added the city to the list.
$6.5 million in 2004, but nothing any of the other years.
Hampton Roads "very well could be on the list next year," Short said, and he suggested that Hampton Roads' large military presence could have worked against the region. "If assets are already protected or considered less vulnerable, then that certainly factors into whether they are at risk."
Collins, of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, disagreed. "The fallacy of that is they don't protect beyond the fences," he said of the military.
Ron Keys, Norfolk's emergency management director, said his city and Virginia Beach are working on a joint risk assessment that he hopes will win the region more federal protection money in the future.