Inside the Pork Barrel in Nevada: Snake Tongs from Homeland Security Dollars

Snake traps, polo shirts, waste basket, cooking grill, all from money earnarked for security


"Congress has given us 60 days to obligate the money," Siracusa said. "The clock is ticking. We must get applications, review them, go before the commission. I must certify each application meets federal criteria."

If officials delay, then the grants could be withdrawn and the money given to other states. So far, Nevada has not lost any grant money, Siracusa said.

"It is not just throwing money out there," he said. "There is a process in place."

In response to Giunchigliani's criticism, Siracusa said his agency did assessments in 2001 and 2003 of potential terrorist targets and natural disasters. Clark County completed a similar assessment last year, he said.

The state Homeland Security Commission contracted with the UNLV Center for Security Studies earlier this year to prepare an assessment of buildings and locations that would be most vulnerable to a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, Siracusa said. The study should be completed in 2006.

"The contractor is going through what we have done to see if we missed anything," he said.

Most of the expenditures by local governments examined by the Review-Journal were for equipment to help "first responders," including police and firefighters, in dealing with disasters like chemical spills or earthquakes.

For example, the city of Las Vegas received $124,500 for "thermal imaging cameras," equipment that can see through smoke and other conditions where visibility is poor.

The department also received $509,261 for bomb squad equipment.

Henderson received $400,000 for a hazardous materials response vehicle and Las Vegas police spent $709,500 on equipment for their crime lab. The Clark County Fire Department spent $1 million on a decontamination vehicle for use during a terrorism incident.

Federal Homeland Security regulations forbid using the funds for police patrol cars. But Las Vegas police spent $22,000 on a Chevrolet Trail Blazer and $16,700 on a Pontiac Grand Prix for use in programs to prevent chemical-, biological-, nuclear- or explosives-related incidents.

But some police departments purchased basic equipment they have not been able to afford with existing funds. The Mesquite Police Department bought a $139,699 surveillance vehicle, $5,750 in video recording equipment and binoculars, video and digital cameras.

Marge Gunn, the emergency management director in Lincoln County, called the grants a "godsend." Lincoln County, home to fewer than 5,000 people, has received $275,000 over the past six years.

Lincoln County's purchases include 100 blankets at $14.14 each for an emergency shelter, defibrillators, nebulizers and even 100 body bags. Nebulizers are devices that dispense medication to people with asthma.

"I am doing my best to be prepared on limited funds," Gunn said.

If a terrorist attack or natural disaster occurred in Clark County, some people probably would be evacuated to Lincoln County, she said.

"We all should work together to ensure the public is safe," Gunn said.