Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 12, 2006

Editorial by Frank Keating on risk and rural areas

Filed under: Risk Assessment,State and Local HLS — by Christian Beckner on January 12, 2006

Former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating writes in the New York Times yesterday about the issue of rural states and homeland security grants:

The Department of Homeland Security has just announced that it will concentrate domestic security grants in those communities it perceives as high-risk targets for terrorism – primarily our large, coastal cities.

This action is apparently a response to critics who suggest that smaller cities are simply less likely to be targets. But this is a dangerous assumption. While a two-person rural sheriff’s office may have little need for new bomb disposal equipment or chemical suits, grant decisions reached with prudence and common sense will also include some allocations for cities in the American heartland.

I don’t think ‘small cities are less likely to be targets’ is a whole and accurate reason for a shift of funds. As Sec. Chertoff frequently reiterates, risk is a function of three variables: threat, vulnerability, and consequence. The decision to shift funds to large cities is not only a function of threat, but also importantly of consequence. The consequences of certain types of terror attacks are without a doubt likely to be much greater on a large city than small towns and cities.

Keating is correct to note that every part of the country is vulnerable and law enforcement officials and first responders need to be prepared. But that’s exactly why there are other grant programs, such as the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Law Enforcement Terrorist Prevention Program, that distribute grants to states based on population and other baseline factors. The grant allocations that were announced last week, for the Urban Area Security Initiative, are intended to complement these non-risk driven programs, and be the “tip of the spear” for protecting large, high-threat and high-consequence cities. I think that’s a sensible balance – one for which there will naturally be disputes at the margin – that people from all parts of the country need to accept.

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