Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 25, 2006

Las Vegas UASI decision: garbage in, garbage out

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Christian Beckner on April 25, 2006

During the first week in January when the UASI grants were announced, I expressed puzzlement over the decision to drop Las Vegas from the list of high-threat cities, writing on January 6th:

Shouldn’t someone have done an intuitive gut check with the results, and asked “why is Las Vegas on our list of cities to stop funding? That makes no sense.”

News stories from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and KVBC-TV in Las Vegas explained late last week why this determination was made: faulty data.

From the Review-Journal story:

In finding that Milwaukee, Jacksonville, Fla., and hurricane-devastated New Orleans were among the nation’s most inviting targets for the world’s violent extremists, Homeland Security bureaucrats assumed that Las Vegas had no convention centers, no military bases and just a couple of shopping malls. The agency listed Wynn Las Vegas as the city’s tallest building; it thought the 1,100-foot Stratosphere Tower was an amusement park. Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which hosts more than 100,000 people for the valley’s annual Nextel Cup race, apparently doesn’t exist…

Apparently, the short-term collapse of Southern Nevada’s tourist trade following the 9/11 attacks wasn’t enough evidence of the region’s economic vulnerability to a terrorist strike. The 6.2 million visitors to the valley’s convention centers last year don’t indicate enough potential “innocent victims” to warrant federal concern. That Nellis Air Force Base helps train the fighter pilots of U.S. allies? That’s apparently news to the Homeland Security bureaucrats.

And the fact that 17 of the world’s 20 largest hotels draw hundreds of thousands of visitors and workers within a few square miles every day? Well, that’s just not “critical infrastructure” — even with big shopping malls built inside the hotels.

Assuming this is true, which I don’t doubt, then it provides more than enough evidence for Sec. Chertoff to reinstate Las Vegas immediately into the UASI grant program. I still am somewhat incredulous that this decision was made in the first place. Anyone who has been to Las Vegas and/or followed al-Qaeda in the past decade knows that it’s one of the top 6-8 cities nationwide in terms of both threat and vulnerability.

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4 Comments »

755

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 25, 2006 @ 10:37 am

It really is not so amazing. After DHS/FEMA leadership did not know for days that the New Orleans Convention Center and the Super Bowl were two different facilities with resulting catastrophe for non-evacuees in the city. All of this critical information is available from cheap easy to use GIS maps and data sources but somehow that escaped DHS/FEMA’s contracting capability and also the State and local governments that should have these systems ready to go. and available to “Outsiders” when they arrive to help.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Blog Archive » UASI grant decisions: garbage in, garbage out?

June 2, 2006 @ 12:24 am

[...] I think this decision on NYC could be another example of the garbage-in, garbage-out (GIGO) problem, which I argued in April was a factor in the decision to cut Las Vegas from the list of high-risk cities. Some of the metrics on the one-page fact memo seem flawed in one way or another; for example, using the “quantity” of various asset types in these calculations fails to quantify their symbolic values, and using the quantity of threat reports from cities fails to account for different levels of discernment across cities about what constitutes suspicious activity. [...]

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