Sandoval told door closed on FEMA funds


WASHINGTON -- Federal officials closed the door Monday on Southern Nevada recovering about $3 million this year for disaster preparedness, despite an in-person appeal from Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The Department of Homeland Security already considered and rejected a request from Clark County to restore the funding, Sandoval said he was told. The region's share of emergency planning grants was cut after new risk assessments dropped Las Vegas from 22 to 30 among cities potentially vulnerable to terrorist attack or other major disasters.

The picture was further complicated by $1.5 billion in budget cuts that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said forced the Federal Emergency Management Agency to focus on cities at greatest risk, which customarily means the largest ones.

"The decision is made for this year, but there is the ability for next year, when the process begins again, for Nevada to provide additional information to change where we are positioned on that list," Sandoval said. He reported after meeting with a half-dozen Homeland Security representatives including Elizabeth Harmon, FEMA assistant administrator for grant programs.

FUNDING CUT TO $1.8 MILLION

The new apportionment reduces Southern Nevada federal preparedness funding from $4.7 million in 2011 to $1.8 million this year under the Urban Areas Security Initiative, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

County officials have said the cuts would be felt by the Metropolitan Police Department, the Southern Nevada Health District and the Clark County Fire Department among local emergency responders. The grants fund the Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center, the so-called "fusion center" that coordinates local and federal security agencies.

Sandoval said decisions on spreading the pain will be made after consideration by the state's H omeland Security Commission. He said the blow might be cushioned by some amount of carryover federal funds that state officials are trying to calculate.

Sandoval met with Cabinet officials throughout the weekend while in Washington for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association. On Monday, the governors met at the White House with President Barack Obama, who urged them not to shortchange education funding in their states even as many of their economies continue to struggle.

On preparedness funding, this isn't the first time Nevada has had to scrap for federal dollars. Las Vegas was dropped from the Urban Areas Security Initiative program entirely in 2006, leading Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and then-Sheriff Bill Young to call for the resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Chertoff subsequently restored some funding for Las Vegas, and the sum was increased the next year after Reid called for a change that factored transients and tourists into the risk formulas.

Southern Nevada officials have been sensitive to possible threats since learning that four of the Sept. 11 hijackers and fellow conspirators had visited Las Vegas weeks before the attacks. It remains a mystery what they were doing here .

OTHER CITIES' RISK INCREASES

In Monday's meeting, when Sandoval went to make a point about the necessity to plan for a disaster that could include thousands of Strip visitors at any one time, he was told that was already factored into the risk analysis.

Ryan McGinness, director of the state of Nevada office in Washington, said changes made in the risk formula bumped other cities above Las Vegas. For instance, for the first time analysts weighed risk from domestic radicals in addition to international terrorists.

"It wasn't necessarily that Las Vegas dropped; it was that other cities on the list increased in their threat level," McGinness said. "There was nothing that happened in Las Vegas that made it less of a potential risk; it's just that other things became more of a potential threat."

Denver, Portland, Ore., and Tampa, Fla., jumped over Las Vegas in the latest rankings.

While unable to restore preparedness funding, Sandoval maintained he did not leave the Department of Homeland Security empty-handed. He said officials expressed interest in creating a center for cyber security at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

It's an opportunity Sandoval said the state will pursue.

"They are very interested about having a curriculum at a university that can work on cyber security as well as policy issues because they are desperate for graduates in that area," Sandoval said.

He said it would dovetail with his recently announced economic development plan that declares national security support to be a field in which the state can excel.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

 

Rules for posting comments

Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum. Read our guidelines for posting. If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon next to the comment.