Supporting the Local Men and Women on the Frontlines
By Senator Debbie Stabenow
When our nation first fought for its freedom, a group of patriots banded together in defense of their hometowns. They were called the Minutemen because on a moment's notice they were ready to respond to an attack.
September the 11th showed us that the tradition of the Minutemen - and women - continues today. Within moments of the attack on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, local police, firefighters, paramedics and public safety and emergency management officials were on the scene trying to save lives and minimize the damage.
They were - and remain - on the front lines of hometown defense in this new war against terrorism.
For the past several months I have been traveling throughout Michigan meeting with the public safety officials who have been given the mission of trying to prevent an attack or being the first on the scene to save lives if one occurs.
From the Upper Peninsula to Detroit, I heard the same message over and over: "Help us get the training, personnel and equipment we need to protect the people we need to protect, and help us meet our obligations in the face of these new threats to our communities."
And I'm sure this plea is being repeated by state and local authorities across the nation. Look at all we are asking them to defend: Almost 600,000 bridges, 170,000 drinking water systems, more than 2,800 power plants - 104 of them nuclear - 190,000 miles of natural gas pipelines, 463 skyscrapers, nearly 20,000 miles of border - and that doesn't count the thousands of airports, stadiums, miles of train tracks, the food supply and schools that serve more than 285 million people spread out over 3,717,792 square miles.
To get our hometown defenders the resources they need, I have cosponsored the Homeland Security Block Grant Act of 2003. This proposed legislation would provide $3.5 billion in financial support to state and local governments that presently are bearing the cost of increased security alone.
Of the total amount, $2.1 billion will go directly to 1,000 counties, cities and towns that are judged most in danger of attack because of targets - like nuclear power plants or fuel storage facilities - that lie within their jurisdiction.
Almost $1 billion will be awarded to the states with the obligation that they transfer that entire amount to their smaller communities where the threat of terrorism also seems large.
Finally, $500 million will go to the states to help develop training and coordination plans, as well as better communications both within their state and across the nation.
There is certainly a global component to the war on terrorism. That's why I supported a 10-percent increase in funding for the military in the Defense Department last year.
But as 9-11 showed us, defense of our homeland begins right in our hometowns and I hope the Administration will get behind our efforts to give our modern-day Minutemen and Minutewomen the support they need.
Our homeland defense will only be as strong as the weakest link at the state and local levels. By providing our communities with the resources and tools they need to bolster emergency response efforts, strengthen local public health systems, and provide for other security initiatives, we will have a better-prepared home front and a stronger America.
Supporting our local law enforcement and rescue agencies in their new responsibilities is not only critical - failure to do so could be catastrophic.