A handful of recent high-profile arrests have been made in response to presumed terrorist threats within the United States. Speaking in front of a Senate committee in late September, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano noted that these cases have involved communities outside of generally-accepted terrorist targets like New York City.

“We cannot limit our efforts to a few urban areas,” she said. “It is really a sense of everybody leaning forward and not being complacent and recognizing that these events can happen anywhere in our country at any time … Every law enforcement department is vested in this and invested in this. Our job is to make sure that those investments are sound, efficient, and coordinated.”

Homeland Security has focused resources on “fusion centers” in communities across the country, bringing various law enforcement and intelligence personnel together to share information and coordinate a response to potential threats. The effort sounds similar to Project Seahawk, a coordinated port protection program for the Charleston Harbor that brings together federal, state, and local agencies.

The federal government is also providing the money for local anti-terrorism efforts, including two recent Charleston grants totalling more than $800,000.

During Napolitano’s Senate visit, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, cited testimony from Michael C. Finton, who was indicted for allegedly attempting to blow up a federal courthouse in Springfield, Ill.

“Finton said that he had wondered at first whether this was all a setup, but he knew it wasn’t because law enforcement authorities in America were not that smart,” Lieberman noted.

As Finton has certainly found out, they are that smart. At a time of economic turmoil when state and local governments are making tough choices regarding essential services, federal money is subsidizing local anti-terrorism efforts.

Both local grants were doled out from the Federal Emergency Management Administration as part of the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. For the past few years, the federal government has been prioritizing these sites and identifying necessary security improvements.

Local governments represent the front lines of homeland security, according to the latest draft of the protection plan. More to the point, local governments drive emergency preparedness.

The plan states, “Local authorities typically shoulder the weight of initial preventions, response, and recovery operations until coordinated support from other sources becomes available.”.

Last week, the city accepted a $700,000 grant from Homeland Security and FEMA to pay for a boat and other equipment for the city’s fire department to protect the Port of Charleston.

Paid for from an influx of stimulus dollars, the port money “is an important component of a coordinated, national effort to strengthen the security of America’s critical infrastructure,” said Deputy National Preparedness Administrator Timothy Manning in announcing the grant.

In September, the City of Charleston accepted a more than $120,000 grant for bomb unit and SWAT equipment to protect the Rhodia chemical plant in the Neck area.

The local plant produces flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, water-treatment systems, and agricultural products, says company spokesman David Klucsik.

For security reasons, many sites are not publicly disclosed. The Rhodia site was identified in public documents presented for City Council approval. Klucsik and local law enforcement would not elaborate on the grant or security associated with the plant.

According to the grant award, the money will pay for thermal and night-vision technology, a bomb suit, and anti-bomb equipment to “enhance security during alerts and incidents.”

The local money is part of the federal Buffer Zone Protection Program, which focuses on providing local first responders with resources to protect facilities, going beyond the property line and into the surrounding community. More than $48.5 million has been awarded this year through the BZP to agencies across the country to help protect “high value/high consequence” facilities, including chemical plants, banks, power plants, dams, and stadiums. According to FEMA, sites are selected for funding “based on their level of risk and criticality.”

These resources ensure that U.S. law enforcement is prepared, says Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican on the Homeland Security committee.

The federal response can be boiled down to four words: deter, detect, disrupt, and defend. But she says, “They fail to capture the dedication and perseverance of the men and women of our military, intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security agencies that they must demonstrate constantly to stay ahead of the evolving terrorist threat.”

Infrastructure Aid Programs

Site Assistance Visits: SAVs are facility vulnerability assessments jointly conducted by DHS in coordination and collaboration with federal, state, and local stakeholders, and private owners and operators. The SAV weighs vulnerabilities by identifying critical assets and potential terror scenarios. An SAV can range from a “quick look” visit to a full 5-day assessment.

Buffer Zone Protection Program: The BZPP is designed to increase security in the “buffer zone” (the area outside of a facility that can be leveraged by an adversary to conduct target surveillance or launch an attack). The BZP is developed by local law enforcement and identifies significant aspects of the site that may be targeted by terrorists and develops an appropriate buffer zone to make it more difficult for terrorists to conduct site surveillance or launch attacks.

Comprehensive Reviews: The CR is a cooperative government-led assessment of critical facilities. The CR considers not only potential terrorist attacks, but also preparedness and response in the context of a natural disaster. The results are used to enhance the overall security and preparedness posture of the facilities and their surrounding communities.

Computer-Based Assessment Tool: CBAT comprises technology and services that help DHS, owners and operators, local law enforcement, and emergency personnel prepare for, respond to, and manage security at events. A “video walkthrough” of the facility or perimeter provided by CBAT also gives emergency response personnel a view of what they will encounter onsite

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