By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HEBRON - Last week the Northern Kentucky Water District received for the first time an e-mail from the federal Department of Homeland Security.
The department, formed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks to track and prevent domestic terrorism, informed water utilities that credible threats had been made against two public water facilities elsewhere in the United States.
"It was a confidential e-mail, but basically they stated what had been threatened and they also provided some ways we could prepare for the threat," said Bari L. Joslyn, the water district's vice president of water quality and production.
The district long ago took steps to prepare for potential attacks against the 20 facilities it operates in Northern Kentucky.
But Joslyn said the e-mail was sobering because it was "really the first time we've been told by the federal government of a credible threat. It's something we prepared for, but it was still good to be informed about what was going on."
Better communication between the federal government and local officials was one of the main topics during a Northern Kentucky Homeland Security Summit on Monday in Hebron. Convened by Rep. Ken Lucas, a Boone County Democrat, representatives of about 50 local governments and so-called "first responder" agencies - police, fire, emergency medical services, dispatch centers and public utilities - attended.
Several of those in attendance told Lucas and Col. Ray Nelson, executive director of the Office of Security Coordination for Kentucky Homeland Security in Frankfort, that communities have security plans - but no money and little direction from the federal and state governments.
Ron Lovan, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Water District, said the district recently completed a risk assessment at the request of the federal government.
"Out of that assessment, it calls for potentially $30 million in security needs," Lovan said. "We can't go into all of it, but it was fencing, additional monitoring, those types of things. Multiply that by every other utility in this country, you can see the magnitude of the funding problem.
"There isn't enough money to (go) around," he said. "So our fear is the federal government will come in and demand things and create unfunded mandates."
The state of Kentucky has received money from the federal government. In early June, the Department of Homeland Security allocated $23.8 million to the state, Nelson said. Last year, the Department of Justice provided nearly $30 million to the state.
Local governments are now being asked to fill out risk assessment surveys, which the state will use to determine where to spend money on security.
Lucas said the federal government has been slow in allocating funding to states, which are responsible for assessing needs locally.
"We have money, but we can't get it out - and to me that is very frustrating," Lucas said during the 90-minute meeting at the Radisson Inn at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Boone County.
Lucas, a member of Congress' Select Committee on Homeland Security, said that judging from briefings he receives, "the threat is real."
"On one hand we need to be realistic, but on the other hand we need to be vigilant and we need to be prepared," Lucas said, adding that he could not discuss specifics because of the sensitive nature of the information.
One of the major concerns among local officials is that larger cities are receiving funds more quickly than smaller jurisdictions in places such as Northern Kentucky.
Fort Thomas Police Lt. Mark Dill pointed out that in mid-May, Cincinnati received nearly $8 million from the federal government for homeland security.
"We're extremely fragmented here (in Northern Kentucky), and the way these grants are administered doesn't recognize that," Dill said. "There are 30 or 40 different agencies represented here at this meeting. They all have their own individual needs. And there is nobody here that is collectively representing the needs of all of those agencies.
"What you really have is a big money grab, and the people who have the biggest constituency tend to be able to grab the biggest load of the money," Dill said. "Cincinnati has money. Fort Thomas doesn't have money. Covington doesn't have money. But we have the same needs."
Dill used as an example the potential for an attack on Cincinnati's water system to illustrate how jurisdictional responsibilities can cross over.
"There can be an attack on Cincinnati's water, but it can happen in Fort Thomas because they have an (Ohio River) water intake in Fort Thomas," Dill said. "They have money, we don't have money. But we have to protect it."
Dill and others said one of the most pressing security concerns in Northern Kentucky is the ability of police, fire and emergency medical services to not only talk to one another, but also to crews from utility companies that might be needed to restore power or provide other services in the wake of a terrorist attack.
Hebron Fire Protection District Fire Chief Dale Harshberger said that by "patching" into other radio systems and frequencies, his department can talk to other emergency personnel in Boone County, but that communication is more difficult if not impossible over county and state lines.
Boone County Administrator Jim Parsons said he has seen firsthand the problems with emergency personnel contacting utility crews during natural disasters such as heavy rain or snowstorms.
Parsons also implored the state to consider a community's unique circumstances when allocating Homeland Security dollars.
Boone County is home to an international airport and two interstate highways, but could receive the same amount of money as smaller rural counties.
"There needs to be a better way of allocating the money ... based on what a community needs," Parsons said.
E-mail Patrick Crowley at email@example.com
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