DENVER (AP) – State and local governments in Colorado have spent nearly $354 million in federal grants for homeland security since 2002, but accounting records are incomplete and some of the spending had little to do with fighting terrorism.
State officials acknowledge that record-keeping was hurt by inconsistent accounting and because oversight was handled by three agencies at one time or another, The Denver Post reported Sunday.
But officials say Colorado is better prepared now than it was on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists flew passenger jets into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and crashed another in Pennsylvania.
“We have better equipment. We’re better trained,” said Larry Trujillo, the state’s homeland security director. “I thank God every day for the money that’s been invested. Until something happens, we won’t know. But we are better.”
The newspaper said its review of records showed that a $1 million grant check sat in an unused Denver mailbox for six months because an accounting system failed to note it was missing. It also found that Denver spent nearly $36,000 on refrigerator magnets, baseball caps and other items to promote citizen preparedness.
The city has changed its accounting system, and it has stopped buying promotional items.
The records also showed that agencies in the Denver metro area got five $388,000 big rig-size mobile command units that are more likely to go to county fairs or training exercises than an emergency. The vehicle at the Greater Brighton Fire Protection District responded to four emergencies and 31 non-emergencies in 2009 and 2010.
But some of the spending has produced results.
A state fusion center, a hub for intelligence gathering, helped track would-be terrorist Najibullah Zazi and find the beauty shops where he bought bomb-making materials. An emergency operations center in the basement of Denver’s city hall was used during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Colorado also has a radio system that connects law-enforcement officers and firefighters statewide. It has flaws and dark areas, but handles 86 million calls a year from first responders.
The newspaper reported some remote, sparsely populated areas got more money per capita than metropolitan areas.
In the six-county San Luis Valley region, with about 46,000 residents, Colorado spending on homeland security totaled about $159 per person. That’s eight times what was spent per person in the Colorado Springs region, home of four military installations and the Air Force Academy.
The 10-county metro Denver area got about one-sixth as much homeland-security money per person than the San Luis Valley region, the newspaper reported.
Emergency responders in rural areas defend the lopsided per-capita spending, saying many towns weren’t adequately equipped for daily law enforcement work, let alone a disaster.
“Our philosophy is that, to a large degree, if you are prepared for a propane tank exploding in downtown Gunnison in an accident, you are just about as prepared for that if it was a terrorist attack,” said Scott Morrill, emergency manager for Gunnison County.
Gunnison’s hazardous materials response team was using a 1996 ambulance with several hundred thousand miles on it and a wooden box on top for gear before it got a $220,000 truck. The hazmat crew responds to 18 to 20 calls a year.
Officials in Hinsdale County, which has 843 residents, asked for and received at least $590,000 in homeland security equipment, including an oxygen generator, radios, a command trailer, off-road vehicles, global positioning devices and surveillance binoculars.
“My whole focus on this has had to do with our remoteness and our isolation,” said Jerry Gray, the county’s emergency manager and coroner. “We are a long ways from help. We expect to be the first one cut off and the last one restored.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)