Ted Simons: The recent bombings in Boston were a stark reminder that the threat of terrorist activity on U.S. soil is still very much alive. Efforts to keep the Phoenix area safe from attacks continue on a variety of levels, though there is concern over recent drops in federal Homeland Security funds. For more on this we're joined by Mesa city councilman and firefighter Scott Somers. Also joining us, Scott Krushak, the emergency management coordinator for the City of Phoenix. Good to have you here. Let's start with an overview, the status of Homeland Security in the Phoenix area.
Scott Somers: Well, Homeland Security dollars have shrunk about 60% to our region over the last two years. So that's something to be concerned about. But we're utilizing those dollars to build really a regional capability, regional capacity to respond to incidents of national significance, like the bombing attack you saw in Boston.
Ted Simons: Is that different from what we've seen in years past?
Scott Somers: The regional approach is something that the federal government has been really keen on through the national preparedness goal. We have seen far more in the Valley than you have nationally. We really are one of the best at taking a regional approach through fire, police and our health care system.
Ted Simons: Has Homeland Security in your mind overall -- we'll talk about the funding in a second -- strengthened, weakened, changed? What have you seen?
Scott Krushak: It's changed over the years. It's really evolved. We came out of 9/11 with really a not good understanding of terrorism and how things should be. We had very traditional systems, poor information sharing. Our response systems worked independently in silos. The regionalization meant the whole community, whole response, all hazards approach didn't really exist. We're in a different world now. Things are way different than they were pre-9/11. I have to say from my perspective we're better.
Scott Somers: Particularly local police agencies, federal and state agencies, these grants have really helped to train local officers, and it's helped fund information sharing centers and fusion centers, which have been seen as best practice in the industry.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, who's in charge? State? County? City? Feds? Who calls the shots here?
Scott Krushak: Depends on who you ask. The reality is everything starts at the local level. From us in the City of Phoenix, if we have an event in our city, we are in charge. We do not relinquish that. You've seen that, in the recent event in Boston. Boston is in charge of that. FBI and supporting agencies come in, 9/11, who was in charge? Very clearly the mayor of that city was in charge of that event. And nobody was going to take that, one of the biggest acts of terrorism in the world, nobody took that away. It happens locally with support.
Ted Simons: Talk about response capabilities here. Community emergency response teams, what are we seeing right now? Give a team grade.
Scott Somers: Give a team grade of A. These have been graded by the Department of Homeland Security in as innovative best practices. Things to be replicated throughout the United States. That's what's happening here in the Valley. We have one of the best response systems in the country.
Ted Simons: We have one of the best response systems in the country. Do we have enough equipment? Do we have enough training? Kind of easing back to this federal funding situation.
Scott Krushak: We're in a really interesting situation right now, because this happened, 9/11 was a while back, things change. Equipment wears out. People go out of the system. So we need to maintain and sustain current capabilities and capacities. And so we have to keep going. We have to keep doing this. If we don't, bad things will happen and we won't be prepared because we won't have trained people and current equipment.
Scott Somers: Right. One of the programs suffering right now is the metropolitan medical response system, set up to handle mass casualty incidents in the country. Phoenix is one of those MMRS units. Mesa also has one. We're finding because MMRS, that funding was zeroed out in the budget last year. We're having difficulty replacing our medications, like these antidote kits that I brought with me. We carried them on nearly every truck in Mesa, we're now down 30% because most of them are out of date and we're having to consolidate.
Ted Simons: As far as other equipment, I think we had an example here earlier today, brought in what looks like a bomb detonation suit? What are we looking at?
Scott Somers: It's an explosive ordinance disposal suit that we purchased, you can see it on your screen. Mesa Police Department's bomb suit. These bomb suits are no doubt expensive. But the EOD team is really an example of that regional cooperation we have across jurisdictional boundaries. We only have five EOD teams. Phoenix, Tempe, Glendale, Mesa, I think the sheriff's office has one, and the department of public safety has one throughout the state. But not every department can afford that. Not every department can afford to have a hazardous materials team. These are teams that respond throughout the Valley and the state, wherever the emergency is.
Ted Simons: What are the urban area security initiative grant?
Scott Krushak: That is me.
Ted Simons: That's you, congratulations.
Scott Krushak: Thank you. I am the coordinator for that. The initiative is major metropolitan areas across the United States. Originally it was about 64, that recently got cut to about 31, 32 . And those 30 now are the major areas where the possibility and the risk and threat and consequence from national level acts of terrorism would exist. So those are specific within jurisdictions. Regionally here, City of Phoenix, Maricopa County, Phoenix area urban security initiative.
Ted Simons: How much money does this account for and how much is spent?
Scott Krushak: We get about $11 million, I would say, and we spend it all. We use it. That's a regional asset, don't forget, so we all sit together as a region, and how do we make this work.
Scott Somers: It's not just for the equipment, it's great stuff to look at. But it goes from tremendous training too, the bomb techs have to be trained, the hazardous materials folks have to be trained. Firefighters have been involved in spotting activities that might have resulted in a significant event.
Ted Simons: You mentioned equipment. What's this cylinder thing here?
Scott Somers: This is an interesting device, a radiological meter. We use to it sweep for weapons of mass destruction. We can use this at the Super Bowl, golf tournaments, the kinds of big events that might be targets in the Valley. We'll use it again in the Super Bowl coming up. We were able to detect somebody in an audience from a distance away who had just had a radiological procedure done the day before.
Scott Krushak: There it is.
Ted Simons: I'm pointing this -- That's a Thermos mug or something.
Scott Somers: It's extremely sensitive equipment. We train our folks to use it, they are experts at it.
Ted Simons: I hate to keep coming back to money, but we've got the sequester going on, as well. Impact of the sequester on future funding.
Scott Krushak: The grant programs are in flux, we're not really sure. The President says it should look this way, Congress says it should look this way. So we really don't know what it looks like. We move forward with our plans and our processes, and then we take it to see what's going to happen. Just to sum up, I'm going to say one word. Boston. Because that changes everything. Boston, you saw the Congress and some of Congress saying, hey, we need to eliminate these response systems, MMRS, we don't need all that stuff. Those are toys, we don't need it. Well one word on Boston. They needed it.
Scott Somers: And I would use one word, two words, Tyler, Texas. Nobody's ever heard of Tyler, Texas, because the FBI working in a fusion center with local police stopped the terrorist attack that was going to use weapons of mass destruction.
Ted Simons: Yet we will hear critics say the funding for Homeland Security in general, a waste, all sorts of abuse. Money is being used to buy snow-cone machines, a submarine for Columbus, Ohio. How do you respond to that?
Scott Krushak: I have to say that we spend our money correctly here in the region. We do have several best practices, we regionalize, across the U.S. we're known for that. I have to say we know the Secretary of Homeland Security very well, and she knows us very well. Our fusion center was started by her and it's the national model. That's the way things should be. We don't have any snow-cone machines.
Ted Simons: The money maybe needs to be tightened a little bit or better monitored, how do you respond?
Scott Somers: We want to make sure that we spend our money wisely. The Phoenix region has been held up as an innovative best practice. We are truly the model nationally, particularly with our training and interoperable nature by which our police, fire, state and local and federal jurisdictions are operating.
Ted Simons: Ever-evolving?
Scott Krushak: And we are good stewards of taxpayer dollars. I have to say that. That's what this is about. This is about taking those funds and using them correctly for the community, and that's what we do.
Ted Simons: Gentlemen, good to have you both here.
Scott Krushak: Thank you.
Scott Somers: Thank you.