NYC Fights and NYC WiNs!

Though many vulnerabilities were exposed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, none received more attention than the lack of an interoperable communications system linking New York City's (NYC's) first responders to incident command...

As far as NYCWiN is going, yes, everyone is cooperating. However, there are issues reaching beyond NYC that will ultimately effect communicating with agencies outside the city. Sbordone explains, "Technical challenges can be overcome (different frequencies can be connected by using gateways, for example) — it's the political issues that are challenging. From technology- and spectrum-related standpoints, each implementing public safety jurisdiction absolutely requires the flexibility to evaluate and respond to its own circumstances, both physical and operational, rather than to have the federal government implement a top-down approach to funding allocation that doesn't take into account each municipality's unique needs."

Threat-based funding

Creating systems like this takes funding, and will continue to draw funding from the homeland security funds budget. However, that funding is not always available. New formulas for DHS fund distribution mean money is not always going to the places, such as New York City, where the threat of terrorist events is most imminent.

Bloomberg delivered powerful testimony about the problems inherent in such formulas in his January Congressional appearance. Although he never disputed that everyone is at risk, he concluded not every city is a target — or at least not as lucrative a target — to terrorism as New York.

In addressing the formulas for DHS fund distribution, he says, "Homeland security funds should all go to the places where we need those monies. Do not confuse risks with targets. … For the sake of New York City — and the sake of our nation — I hope you stop writing politically derived formulas into homeland security bills. Instead, you should give the Department of Homeland Security complete flexibility to allocate 100 percent of homeland security grants funds according to risk, threat and return on investment — and then challenge the department to exercise this flexibility in a coherent and rigorous manner."

Progress on the funding issue

According to Bloomberg, the DHS released new guidelines for the fund distribution in Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, and these guidelines gave greater consideration to threat, vulnerability and consequences of a terrorist attack. The DHS's Urban Areas Security Initiative will recognize six high-risk sensitive areas — including New York. (The following also are considered high-risk areas by the DHS: Northern New Jersey; the San Francisco Bay Area; Los Angeles and Long Beach; Chicago; Houston and Washington, D.C.) "Establishing this high-priority group is a step in the right direction," he says. "But when you actually compare the percentage of funding these six cities received last year with what's being set aside for them this year, it is virtually the same."

Homeland security funding that does not include NYC?

In 2007, the federal government will distribute $1 billion for the development of state and local interoperable communications systems. This is a very sensible effort — and it speaks directly to one of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.

But Bloomberg pointed out an interesting twist to this funding in his Congressional testimony. "As of now, none of that funding is available to New York City because our systems will operate on frequencies other than the ones specified in the federal government's new grant program," he says. "This restriction punishes us for our aggressiveness in protecting our city. We've already invested more than $1 billion of our own money in our network's infrastructure. And we're building it on a frequency that works best in the subways, skyscrapers and density of our urban environment. We've tried to develop a solution that makes sense for our city's needs because one size does not fit all — nor will it."

Bloomberg makes a strong argument, but everyone wants money, and their elected officials seek to satisfy. He ended his testimony by saying, "What this country really needs is a federal policy-making process that recognizes New York City for what it truly is: One of the largest, most densely populated areas in the world, a powerful symbol for what our enemies deeply despise, and a city that already has been targeted many times. This is our reality — and it is one that defies a mathematical formula — no matter how well-intended."

It is clear Bloomberg is not letting Congress off the hook anytime soon.

Sen. Hillary Rodham-Clinton is proposing legislation and has offered a formula for DHS spending that reflects a risk-based approach.

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