Responding to repeated calls from big-city mayors, the US Department of Homeland Security is shifting a larger share of its annual US$3.5 billion in anti-terrorism grants to the nation's largest cities, allowing them to accelerate purchases of equipment and training needed to better defend against -- or at least rapidly respond to -- an attack.
The biggest beneficiary of the shift is New York City, which has been awarded a US$208 million grant for the 2005 fiscal year, compared with US$47 million in the 2004 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30. That should allow the city to buy more devices that can detect chemical, biological or other hazards, increase training for its police and firefighters, and spend more money on an intelligence center where it analyzes possible terrorist threats, one state official said.
Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and Boston also are getting larger grants, although the increase is not nearly as substantial as in New York.
"We've been protecting the nation's financial and communications center on our own dime," said Raymond Kelly, New York City's police commissioner. "It's a national responsibility."
Proponents of the shift say they hope it is only a first step in a more fundamental revamping of domestic security grants. But the change has evoked protests from cities that have dropped off the list or whose allocations have shrunk, including Orlando, Florida, Memphis, Tennessee, and New Haven, Connecticut.
"We are at the crossroads of America, for cars, for trains, for river traffic," said Claude Talford, director of emergency management services in the Memphis area, which received a US$10 million grant for this year, but is not slated to get any direct grant next year.
"We are a prime location, a prime target, any way you look at it," he said.
Lobbying efforts are under way to try to reinstate financing to these communities. But homeland security officials said the grant allocations were final.
Two shifts in homeland security financing are resulting in the reallocation of the grants. First, in the 2005 fiscal year, at the urging of US President George W. Bush, a larger share of the grants will be distributed directly to cities, instead of through a state program set up to ensure that both urban and rural areas got a cut.
Second, of the money earmarked for high-risk cities, much more of it is going to the biggest cities: In the 2005 fiscal year, New York, Washington and Los Angeles will get 42 percent of the money, compared with 16 percent for the top three cities this year. This shift took place, homeland security officials said, because more possible targets -- bridges, signature buildings, government facilities and other important structures -- have been added to a database they use to calculate threats.
Domestic terrorism incidents, whether actual attacks or just false reports, also are now factored into the formula. And instead of taking into account only population density, the department also now factors in a city's overall population.