As the nation paused Wednesday on the 12th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, FOX13 News takes a look at how Mid-South Homeland Security officials prepare to respond to a potential disaster at home.
The federal government has slashed Homeland Security dollars coming into our region and Mid-South emergency management officials say they are making do with much less.
The Department of Homeland Security put out a list of local preparedness grants a few weeks ago; more than $1.5 billion for local governments around the nation. There was nothing set aside for Shelby County first responders.
Mid-South first responders have to be ready for anything, from a natural disaster to a terrorist attack. But the federal Homeland Security money coming into the region has dried up, going from an average of $4.2 million a year to just about $400,000.
"If you have an urban area like ours there's a lot of things a lot of difference between $4 million and $400,000," said Shelby County Office of Preparedness Executive Director Bob Nations.
The Shelby County Office of Preparedness coordinates Homeland Security operations for six counties in the Mid-South. The region was part of a program called the Urban Area Security Initiative, an initiative to send federal preparedness assistance to different regions around the country.
But the federal government cut the Memphis area from the program.
"Preparedness rests on prevention and the idea that you have to have certain equipment, you have to have training to match that equipment," Nations said. "Then you have to exercise your training."
The federal money paid for critical Homeland Security programs, equipment for the area's hazardous materials response teams and gear and training for specialized units for law enforcement bomb squads. With less money, Homeland Security officials have to make tough decisions.
"We will continue to sustain those projects as best we can but these are difficult times and we're having to do a lot of prioritizing," Nations said.
The county's office of preparedness has used grant money to pay for mapping systems and river gauges to respond to flooding. They purchased new satellite radio communication systems for first responders and they created an online meeting space for officials if they can't get to the operations center during an incident.
Nations says without the funds from the federal government he doesn't know how they could have built up these programs. Even with much less money he says they'll have to be ready to respond.
"We simply must stay prepared regardless of the funding level," he said.
Nations and other area Homeland Security officials are asking Congress to restore the funding to mid-sized cities like Memphis. Over time as training lessens and equipment gets older this issue could get worse.