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Making the homeland safe takes a plan as well as cash

November 25, 2003

Say the words "homeland security" and most people will think about an agency that protects citizens from terrorist attacks. But for West Virginia's state government, the term has come to mean any activity that protects the population from disaster or its aftermath.

According to The Associated Press, since 1999, the state has received $52 million for homeland security-type activities. And far from being deceitful, state officials say they've always been up front about how the cash would be used.

Randy Coleman, deputy security for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, told AP that the materials purchased with federal funds were never intended to just sit in storage awaiting a terrorist attack.

Instead, Coleman said, the state government is ready to deploy them in response to floods and other natural disasters.

For example, during flooding earlier this month, the state Office of Emergency Services opened a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Big Chimney, anticipating that rescue workers might need a medical triage center or a mobile-command center.

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Medical packs also were issued to 200 rescue workers as they headed into areas ravaged by floods.

National attention was focused on homeland security spending by a recent USA Today analysis of how states have used their grants. It found that unlike West Virginia, some states decided to give each fire and rescue company a set amount of the grant for training and equipment.

It might have made the companies happy, according to Lee Gray, director of administration for OES, but it didn't really enhance their ability to respond to disasters.

The USA Today analysis also found that while West Virginia ranked No. 16 in per-capita funding - $12.79 per resident, versus $10.57 for New York State - it only ranks 37th in population.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., defended the allocation earlier this month at a security summit held in Shepherdstown, noting that the state is a major source of raw materials and power generation.

Citizens ought to be less concerned about which state gets how much than in how well-coordinated the different state programs are. One state, no matter how well its program functions, isn't enough to win this fight.

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