One of these things is not like the others

     The lyrics in an old Sesame Street song once crooned, "One of these things is not like the others" and challenged kids to figure out which one it was. In the case of the Department of Homeland Security's Tier One risk targets, one could easily sing instead: "One of these targets is not like the others."

     Of the six Tier One areas — New York City; Chicago, Illinois; Houston, Texas; San Francisco, California; Los Angeles County, California; and Washington, D.C., which one is not like the others?

     The answer: Los Angeles County.

     New York City, Chicago, Houston, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco include concentrated high-visibility targets in densely populated areas, known to everyone around the world. New York City and Washington, D.C., have created "rings of steel" around critical districts where terrorists could achieve widespread loss of life and disrupt essential economic infrastructure. Houston has allocated significant funds to secure petroleum production and distribution. Chicago has increased surveillance around the Mercantile Exchange and Sears Tower as has San Francisco around the Golden Gate Bridge.

     However, Los Angeles County's sheer size — 4,084 square miles — and the layout of its population makes it extremely difficult to secure. Consider that:

  • 40 percent of all imported goods pass through the Port of Long Beach;
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the second busiest airport in the country;
  • The city is within 100 miles of the longest land border in the Western Hemisphere, which the state shares with Mexico; and whil
  • The famous 'HOLLYWOOD' sign is not in itself a terrorist target, the movie industry and all that it stands for definitely is.

     Cooperation is necessary to protect such a county, which encompasses 88 incorporated cities (including the city of Los Angeles) and many lucrative terrorist targets. Add to this the frequency of earthquakes, wildfires, landslides and tsunami warnings, and we begin to see the complexities of protecting the more than 10 million people who call Los Angeles County home. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the field offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), work cohesively with area fire departments and the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management to provide public safety personnel with necessary resources to protect the population.

Share and share alike

     Chief William McSweeney heads the Office of Homeland Security for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Known as the largest sheriff's office in the world, this agency protects 44 of the 88 cities within Los Angeles County, oversees the transit police and operates the largest jail system in the country.

     McSweeney points out the country's vulnerabilities were revealed following the events of 9/11 and again after Hurricane Katrina. He emphasizes the United States has learned from these tragedies and has made remarkable advancements since then. "We have learned to cooperate, not compete, with neighboring agencies as well as federal agencies," he explains. "Now we have local police agencies performing national security duties, and it is very effective."

     He goes on to say that superior intelligence sharing is the only way to protect an area the size of Los Angeles County. "It is impossible to completely protect every single building and area identified as targets," he says. "Prevention by intelligence sharing is the most effective deterrent to terrorism."

Technology funds

     Acquiring necessary funding also has been key in securing this Tier One risk target. The City of Los Angeles and the surrounding county receive funding from DHS Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grants and its Infrastructure Protection Program (IPP), which is designed to strengthen the nation's ability to protect critical infrastructure facilities and systems. Two significant sources of IPP funding are: the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP) to help protect critical infrastructure and the Port Security Grant Program (PGSP) to aid in the protection of critical port infrastructure. PGSP supplemental funds are also available to assist ports in enhancing risk management capabilities; increasing domain awareness; building capabilities to prevent, detect, respond to and recover from attacks involved improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other nonconventional weapons; and providing first responders with critical training and exercises.

     In 2007, UASI funding totals for the Los Angeles/Long Beach area were $72.6 million. The greater Los Angeles Area (Los Angeles/Long Beach and Anaheim/Santa Ana UASI Areas) also received $4.3 million in IPP grants in 2007. Los Angeles/Long Beach area grants were $72.6 million. The greater Los Angeles Area (Los Angeles/Long Beach and Anaheim/Santa Ana UASI Areas) also received $4.3 million in IPP grants in 2007. Los Angeles/Long Beach received $14.7 million from PSGP plus an additional $8 million from a PSGP supplementary grant in 2007.

     Getting funds to help pay for needed technology in order to fully safeguard the community is not as daunting as it might seem, says Sheila Darling, senior management analyst for the LAPD's Fiscal Operations Division. But it pays to pay attention.

     "We meet regularly with the sheriff's office and all other public safety agencies to be sure we are effectively protecting all citizens within and outside the city," Darling says. "We compete for funds with other cities so we are always looking at the types of requests that receive funding. It seems that the DHS is looking for long-term programs that increase interoperability and information sharing with multi-agency benefits."

     Closely scrutinizing the way funds are allocated has paid big dividends in the Los Angeles area. DHS funding has enabled Los Angeles to fund projects it may not have had the means to pay for otherwise. The result has been improved communications as well as a more secure community.

DHS-funded projects

     Capt. Eric Parra of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's Emergency Operations Bureau says the department effectively utilizes its UASI funding by identifying specific technology needs and finding the most efficient way to pay for them. In addition to $2.5 million in UASI funds to enhance interoperability, other federal funding has supplied the region with portable hazmat identification laboratories and airplane-mounted radiation detection devices, which can inspect large events for the presence of radiation.

     Some other projects at least partially funded by DHS grants include:

     Communications: As in all major metropolitan areas, Los Angeles struggles with communications interoperability. To date, just $15 million of approximately $600 million spent on communications capabilities has been funded by DHS grants.

     The LAPD also recently deployed Knowledge Computing's Coplink, which is tied in with 35 of the 43 public safety agencies in the Los Angeles region, says Darling. UASI funding provided $10 million toward achieving that communications goal.

     Technology: UASI grants also partially paid for Remotec robots deployed on a $1 million bomb containment truck and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) technology used on helicopters. And, UASI funding paid for a Logos Imaging System for radiological devices and IEDs.

     CCTV: Deputy Chief Michael Downing is commanding officer of the LAPD's Counter-Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau. After returning from strategy sessions in London, England, where they have more than 80 percent of the world's CCTV cameras, he talks about the ongoing development of a CCTV camera network in Los Angeles.

     Downing notes the department has dedicated $7.4 million over the last three years — of which $2.5 million came from grants — to establishing a regional video command center that will feed all CCTV content in the city to a central monitoring location. The center will incorporate existing public and privately owned cameras (shopping mall security cameras for example) as well as ones being planned for critical infrastructure locations. Plans are to add license plate recognition software to cameras in some locations. Although the project focuses on potential terrorism surveillance, Downing says the department will also rely on the system to monitor gang violence, weather events and other circumstances that threaten public safety.

     Operation Archangel: The Operation Archangel project, a critical infrastructure program piloted in Los Angeles, is designed to identify critical infrastructure targets and develop plans to protect them. Funded by a $3 million grant from the DHS Office for Domestic Preparedness, the program aims to prevent attacks by identifying potential targets and strengthening weak points in their overall security.

     The program, which is designed to be scalable to cities of all sizes, includes maps of high-profile targets in its database. The data repository also incorporates information on corresponding evacuation routes, each structure's proximity to hospitals and first responders, the location of possible hazmat issues within the facility and the estimated number of occupants.

     The LAPD developed Operation Archangel in 2003 and now heads the multi-agency expansion, which includes the LA County Sheriff's Department, city and county fire services, port police, airport police and the FBI.

     Counted among the project's protected sites are: water and power plants, media and communications venues, and transportation hubs considered critical to the city's everyday operations. Other sites such as Disneyland Resort, the STAPLES Center, Hollywood Boulevard and motion picture studios are safeguarded as well; though they are not critical to everyday operations, these sites represent lucrative economic terrorist targets.

Federal involvement

     But information sharing and advances in technology can only take terrorism preparedness so far; cooperation with other public safety entities drives the effort home. Protecting the greater Los Angeles area would not be complete without a little help from friends, or in this case ICE and CBP officials in Los Angeles-based field offices.

     "We are the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security while the CBP are the interdictors; they are responsible for holding the line, and securing airports and seaports," says Robert Schoch, special agent in charge at the ICE Los Angeles field office.

     There are 6,000 ICE agents nationwide and Los Angeles represents the largest of 26 field offices. ICE and CBP agents investigate immigration and customs violations, including human, weapons and narcotics trafficking. The two groups work in tandem: DBP is the uniformed arm and ICE is the investigative arm. ICE responds to all seaport and airport violations and those across the Mexican border.

     Since May 2006, ICE has combined its powerful tools with local law enforcement to address southern California's gang problem. More than 5,000 gang members have since been arrested. During a recent 90-day surge, ICE officials made 124 arrests of major gang leaders in the Los Angeles office. Half of them were federally prosecuted and will receive eight- to 10-year federal sentences. The other half will be processed for deportation.

     ICE meets quarterly with LAPD officials and the Los Angeles Mayor's Office to discuss issues related to human trafficking in prostitution and forced labor cases. Having the second busiest airport in the country — often called the gateway to Asia — a large emphasis is placed on interdiction and investigation of these crimes.

     Cooperative efforts have paid off. In fact, ICE and CBP agents from San Diego and Los Angeles joined forces in the largest seize of Mexican brown heroin in California's history — and the second largest in the United States. Authorities confiscated 120 pounds of the substance on Valentine's Day 2007.

     When one of these things is not like the others, only a customized solution will do. Through information sharing, cooperation and grants to fund new technologies, Los Angeles County has developed a specific solution to its unique Tier One situation.

     Linda Spagnoli is a law enforcement advocate in the areas of communication, child safety, officer safety and sex offender tracking. Her focus is on interagency data sharing, emergency communications, media relations and funding. Spagnoli maintains her position as director of communications for Code Amber, the largest Internet distribution of Amber Alerts. She may be reached at ljspagnoli@aol.com.

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