SEATTLE -- Since September 11, 2001, over $100 million has flowed into the Seattle region in the form of Homeland Security grants. The Seattle Police Department received $21 million of that money. The department usually keeps its technology and tactics confidential, but the department agreed to give the KING 5 Investigators a rare look at their growing arsenal.
The 9/11 hijackers targeted New York’s twin towers and the nation's capitol. But later we learned Seattle's Columbia Center was on the list for a second wave of Al Qaeda attacks.
Seattle was unprepared
A large scale drill conducted in 2003 revealed Seattle was woefully unprepared. It had no way to launch a unified response. It had no way to measure radiological or chemical contamination. The department also realized it had no protective suits for the officers who would be sent in to search for suspects and victims.
The buying begins
When the federal government started handing out homeland security grants, SPD took the money to boost its arsenal at a dizzying pace.
Lt. Greg Sackman of the Seattle Police Department gave us a tour of the $400,000 mobile command center they purchased that brings together the eyes and ears of their top commanders.
Det. Donna O'Neal of the SPD Arson/Bomb squad showed us the Andros robot they acquired. It is remotely controlled by an arson-bomb tech and would be invaluable if explosives were planted in the Columbia Center or under the viaduct.
"We can put multiple tools onto this robot. We can use it both as a surveillance to see stuff or we can take actions on any type of device we have,” said O’Neil.
Homeland Security dollars paid for the bomb truck it’s transported in. SPD also purchased a fiberscope that can see inside a Ryder truck or an improvised explosive device strapped to a hostage.
The 2003 drill in Seattle exposed another glaring problem. First responders couldn't talk to each other and to military units. Their radios were not compatible. The solution was a million-dollar communications vehicle that can link everyone together with the flip of a switch. The custom-made armored vehicles for SWAT officers cost $700,000.
It has all the appearances of an SPD buying spree with Uncle Sam’s credit card. But it turns out to be a lot more complex and practical than that.
SPD had to justify all of its purchases to the federal government as something that would actually be used to protect citizens from terrorism.
But they quickly realized a lot of it could be put to use right away.
That has certainly been the case for the SPD Harbor Patrol Unit. Sgt. Doug Harris showed us a $300,000 rigid hulled inflatable boat. It moves twice as fast as its predecessor and is designed for interdiction. The boat is used almost daily to respond to water emergencies.
"This vessel from the day we took delivery began patrolling,” said Harris.
For a city with 200 shoreline miles, Seattle had a woefully inadequate fleet before 9/11. Millions in Homeland Security dollars have transformed the police harbor unit into what some now call the “Seattle Navy.”
Patrol Two, at the eye-popping cost of $1.3 million, can get into water as shallow as 18 inches and is used daily for homeland security checks.
"It has made us way more capable to respond to a catastrophic event, whether it be terrorist related or natural,” said Harris.
Patrol Five was custom built to do things like clear a pier for a bomb sweep. It's been used on the Fourth of July and during Seafair. The mini-sub can identify underwater explosives and has been used to recover the bodies of drowning victims.
In addition to the boats, police divers now wear $3,000 dry suits and masks that make it possible to swim in a sea of chemical soup.
"It's full of fluids and things we don't want on us. So as we're diving to try and rescue victims of that terrorist attack we'd be wearing this,” said Harris.
On top of all the high-tech toys and whiz-bang equipment, millions more have gone into training and planning. According to SPD, the Homeland Security dollars which have been provided to protect the region from a terror attack are already making the city safer.
The Seattle Police Department isn't the only agency that got big money from the federal government for homeland security. Millions more went to pay for new equipment and training at the fire department. But Congress is threatening to turn off the tap. Thursday night the KING 5 Investigators will show you would that could mean.