Arizona to Try Regional Approach to Security

PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona is taking a regional approach to homeland security, using five advisory councils to define the security needs in separate sections of the state.

The approach is expected to forge cooperation between communities. Advocates say it will also speed up delivery of funds to set up programs to detect terrorist activities and equip the emergency crews who would respond to them.

"It's a pretty revolutionary change from the way we've done business,'' said John Phelps, deputy director of the Arizona Office of Homeland Security. "In the past, each government entity was left to its own devices. Cities, counties, tribes developed their own plans, not necessarily (consistent) with their neighbors.''

The advisory councils created by the state homeland security office are each made up of local government and business leaders and each looks at a different region.

For example, members of the South Region Advisory Council, which includes all the border counties, are likely to tackle border issues. In the Central Region, which includes Maricopa County, security needs will lean toward urban life.

The members will all help decide how to spend Arizona's share of federal homeland-security grants, about $115 million since 2002.

Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs, a member of the Central Region council, said council members will use the money "to do the most good for the most people'' rather than dole out a certain cut of the money to each of the state's 15 counties.

Phelps said the process should be more streamlined because after the councils decide on projects or equipment, the money will take a more direct path to local agencies.

``It's not easy to go through the process to get those funds,'' said Phoenix Assistant Fire Chief Bob Khan. ``There are a lot of hoops to jump through, and you have to be persistent. A lot of times . . . the funding can get so diluted and delayed that it doesn't serve anybody very well.''

In the past, federal grants were first shipped to state homeland-security offices. After states took their 20 percent cut, the rest was divided among counties. Most times, the money had to flow through several more levels of government before being disbursed.

Arizona received $56.6 million for homeland security this fiscal year, up from last year's $50.5 million. In 2002, it was $8.3 million. About $25.7 million of those grants were designated for the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Federal funds have been spent on a variety of emergency-response supplies, including protective suits, equipment to detect biohazards, and rapid-response and command vehicles stocked with lifesaving equipment.