Terrorism alert bills pile up for state and local officials
Thursday, January 8, 2004
The sacrifice can be measured in dollars and cents -- and surely it will run into the tens of millions.
Sharpshooters deployed on Las Vegas Boulevard, extra patrols checking a North Dakota dam, helicopters circling Times Square. When the fifth orange-level terrorism alert took effect days before Christmas, local and state authorities put plans in action.
Now, 2 1/2 weeks later, costs are mounting steadily. Some local officials, particularly in big cities, worry they will wind up shortchanged by federal officials promising reimbursement. But others say the alert doesn't mean higher spending -- just smarter deployment -- and that they've learned a great deal about effective homeland security since Sept. 11, 2001.
"Frankly, it's maturity," said George Foresman, Virginia's special deputy for preparedness. "All of us -- public sector, private sector -- we're getting smarter and better about how we need to respond."
Said Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: "At this point, it's the cost of doing business."
New Hampshire, Colorado, and many smaller or rural cities also reported no additional costs. California's Highway Patrol said they cut additional spending by 20 percent from the last alert.
Los Angeles has spent $9.3 million so far; New Jersey $2.7 million and counting. New York state officials said they did not yet have a full accounting; the last alert cost New York City between $5 million and $7 million a week.
"We've always heard freedom isn't free. No kidding," said Jerry Bussell, Nevada's homeland security adviser.
Some smaller cities, too, said stepped-up security would hit their bottom lines. Portland, Maine, spends $5,000 a week for each alert, said police chief Michael Chitwood.
"Short term, it's fine. It's the long term issues we have to deal with," he said.
But several state leaders and security officials said they've kept costs down or eliminated them entirely by planning ahead and adjusting.
"It doesn't cost any extra money. It's basically a mind-set change," said Patti Micciche, a spokeswoman for Colorado's Public Safety Department. Neither the state nor Denver spent any additional money, while extra officers patrolling the city's New Year's Eve fireworks show were paid by a merchants group.
North Dakota increased highway patrols at the state Capitol and Garrison Dam, but no significant expenses were expected.
In New Hampshire, state police have rearranged staff to ensure "visibility and vigilance," said Executive Maj. Fred Booth of the state police. Additional costs? "Absolutely zero."
High-profile targets like New York, Washington and Los Angeles are always going to bear a bigger burden, Huckabee said. Rural states like his, without international borders, aren't going to face the same challenges.
"We kind of know the drill now," he said. "We notify the proper people ... If they're private sector, we encourage them to step up their private security, and we do spot checks. If it's public sector, we increase patrols."
The learning curve is paying off for local law enforcement officials and federal homeland security officials, said Foresman in Virginia, who began work on terrorism and domestic security issues two years before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Federal authorities are doing a better job providing information to local and state officials who provide the on-the-ground response, he said. And local and state officials are ready to respond to new alerts and potential terrorist attacks -- and readying their budgets as best they can.
"As a nation, we're developing a good battlefield tempo," Foresman said. "We've taken the time, we've done deliberate planning, we've done training. ... We call it the new normalcy."