Federal Homeland Security dollars drying up

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on September 9, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 9 at 10:36 PM

SEATTLE -- After the September 11 attacks, the federal government identified Seattle as a city uniquely vulnerable to terror attacks. It’s an international port and home to iconic corporate giants like Microsoft, Starbucks and Boeing.

Being designated a "vulnerable" city meant Seattle could tap into a vast pool of Homeland Security money under the so-called Urban Areas Security Initiative or UASI grants.

Millions flow into Western Washington
 
For example, Seattle received $11 million in 2003 which was the first year UASI  grants were handed out. 

The money went to assess the vulnerability of the viaduct, to stockpile drinking water and to upgrade aging police equipment.

“They were investments that we've needed to make for years and years and years,” said Seattle Police Department Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer.

The next year the award expanded to include Bellevue, Snohomish, Pierce and King counties for a total of $18.1 million.

Eric Holdeman was the director of King County Emergency Management when the UASI money started flowing and kept flowing until it became like an addiction. 

"Really we didn't even have to apply for it. In King County, we got $5 million,” said Holdeman.

By 2011, the Seattle UASI region had raked in a total of $118 million.

The Seattle Police Department upped training, bought armored SWAT trucks and bomb detecting robots. To see more of the high-tech tools SPD purchased, click here.

The Seattle Fire Department bought a $1.7 million fast attack boat. 

They also purchased the patrol boat named “Leschi” which is based on Elliott Bay. It’s geared to handle an attack on a cruise ship or ferry. It can pump 20,000 gallons of water a minute and reach a target as far away as two city blocks. 

Grant money dwindling

But now that a decade has gone by and there has been no attack, the UASI money is drying up.

This year, Congress took dozens of cities off the list and there's a good chance Seattle will be cut next year.

This as it’s time to start replacing some of the most expensive purchases.

Every police officer in King County has been outfitted with gear to work in hot zones. Seattle Police Lt. Greg Sackman of the Arson/Bomb Squad demonstrated how they use the new suits.

“Each one of these is fitted to the officer, so they know it seals,” said Sackman.

Some of that gear has a five-year shelf life. One of the suits Sackman showed KING actually expired in 2006.

Despite the expiration, SPD says it’s far from wasted money. It's the price of protection.

"Isn't it true that we don't want them to be used? If they have to be used it means people are hurt, or worse,” said Kimerer.

There is UASI money in the pipeline for some replacements but not all.

Some of the police suits cost up to $1800 each. That’s because of the special materials and construction needed keep out contaminants.

It's doubtful there will be Homeland Security money around when the next batch of suits expire. That makes SPD Deputy Police Chief Kimerer nervous.

"Because the loss of that capability, in the event of a disastrous attack is untenable, unacceptable,” said Kimerer.

Then there's the training. Millions of dollars in UASI money has gone to prepare first responders in handling scenarios they've yet to face.

Seattle's never been more ready than it is today for a terror attack. But how long will it last? 

“We've been at the peak. The question is, how far down are we going to go?” said Holdeman.

UDPATE: Seattle is in what's called the second tier of UASI cities. News coming out of Washington D.C. this week indicates Congress may decide to fund only the top ten cities like New York and Chicago. By next year, Seattle could lose its funding altogether. 

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