“In that case, you had operatives or financial people who weren’t necessarily close to where an operation might take place,” Kiser said. “But when they found Osama Bin Laden, they found information describing smaller scale terrorist events. We know it can happen anywhere.”
Following the formation of the federal department, Kentucky separated the functions of the Office of Homeland Security from the Department of Military Affairs in 2004. The state Homeland Security office acts as the conduit for grant funds used for everything from radios to large emergency operation apparatuses.
The office also runs an “intelligence fusion center” where federal and local law enforcement personnel from all over the state sort and share information. The center also organizes training for first responders and organizes a citizen corps.
Funding for grants, as well as the agency, which uses a percentage of federal money for operations, has steadily declined since 2004 when about $45 million was dispersed to Kentucky. Last year, the total was about $12 million.
Local cities, counties and agencies have used varying amounts of competitive grant dollars over the years to bolster disaster readiness with equipment and training.
Mercer County has been especially active in pursuing and receiving grants. In addition to receiving money for communications over the years, Mercer was part of a federal earmark championed by 6th District U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler that will give the county $300,000 to establish a new emergency operations center.
Mercer Judge-Executive Milward Dedman said the paperwork is being finalized for the operations center, which likely will go in the new courthouse downtown when it is finished. He said it is something the county needed and could not have done on the same scale without the assistance.
“That will make the start up of any disaster relief so much more swift and organized,” Dedman said.
Danville Fire Chief Woody Ball, who spent much of the decade since 9/11 as the main grant writer for the fire department, said Danville has added a special operations truck as well as radios. While some have questioned how the millions of dollars have been spent across the country, Ball said the truck and some of the protective gear have been put to important use since the city got them.
Lincoln, Garrard and Casey counties also received grant money for communications and other equipment.
Beyond new equipment, the 9/11 terrorist attacks brought about wholesale changes in what many emergency responders are equipped and trained to handle.
“The difference is massive between now and before,” Ball said. “When I started as a volunteer firefighter in 1988 (in Lancaster), it was all basic fires, car wrecks and EMT work; 2001 changed the way we look at things completely. We realized there are a lot of things, like hazardous materials, chemicals we were not prepared to handle.”
Ball said firefighters now are required to have hazardous material training as well as training in large scale incident management.
Boyle County Emergency Management Director Lennie Shepperson said communication between agencies has improved and disaster planning is now more coordinated. He said there continues to be increased vigilance on the part of first responders for anything that could be a possible threat, including unattended bags and packages, that didn’t exist before.