On the Record: Wyoming Chief of Homeland Security

 
In fiscal 2005, Wyoming will receive $27.80 per person, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. That's almost twice as much per capita as New York, which is to receive $15.54 per resident, and more than three times as much as California, with $8.05 per capita. On Capitol Hill, congressmen from more densely populated states are calling for a revamp of funding formulas so that more money would flow to urban or "high-risk" areas.

For Wyoming's view of homeland security spending, Stateline.org spoke with Joe Moore, who has headed the state's Office of Homeland Security since its inception in March 2003.

Moore contends that homeland security grants are meant not just for fighting terrorists but also for dealing with man-made and natural disasters. With towns so widely separated in his state of 98,000 square miles and roads subject to closure in frequent extreme weather, Moore said local first responders in each community need to be fully equipped and able to act in emergencies without outside assistance.

Wyoming may not have world-class skyscrapers or ports, but Moore pointed to miles of highways and railway lines carrying hazardous materials. In addition, although the state's population of 500,000 may be small, Moore noted that Wyoming gets millions of tourists to national parks each year and houses national treasures in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park, home of the famous Old Faithful geyser.

Moore, who spent 32 years as a special agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation before taking the helm of the Cheyenne, Wyo., homeland security office, said at least one of the pieces of equipment purchased with federal grants already has been put to use although not in a terrorist incident. Miss Daisy, a robot, was used to handle nine pipe bombs discovered in a car stopped by the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

Unlike some other states, Wyoming hasn't had problems with homeland security money getting stuck in the pipeline and failing to move quickly to the front lines, Moore said. In fact, he gave the U.S. Department of Homeland Security an "A-plus."

Following are excerpts from the Jan. 21, 2005, telephone interview:

Stateline.org: What are some of the biggest challenges facing you as security director of a state that encompasses 98,000 square miles and is the tenth largest in the nation? Is (security) made particularly difficult by the size of the state?

Moore: Not particularly. It's a long road between the towns, but we are able to adequately correspond and provide each community with the equipment and the money and the things they need to better prepare themselves for not only natural and man-made events but also for if we ever have a terrorist threat.

Stateline.org: To some, Wyoming has become the poster child for criticism of the way homeland security money is distributed in the United States. Although it's the least populous state in the nation, it has received more money per capita every year than any other state. As the director of Wyoming's division of homeland security, do you think the current funding formulas are dividing the federal anti-terrorism money fairly, and what changes would you like to see in how homeland security funds are divided?

Moore: I don't want to comment on the actions taken by the United States Congress ... but monies that we receive I believe are put to very good, effective use. We have vulnerabilities that are targets. ... We have major highway systems. We have major railroads. We have national facilities and parks that are located next to our state and in our state.

And we believe with the amount of hazardous materials that are transported, we need to provide that funding for our first responders. ... Eighty percent of the money we receive through those grants are given to the local and county municipalities and first responders. So I think we are trying to do what the rest of the country is trying to do and that is build up our first responder capabilities so that as a nation we have a well-equipped, well-trained and well-exercised national first responder program.

Stateline.org: Wyoming has been able to equip each of its first responders and each of its fire trucks with a terrorist attack response kit, complete with a chemical suit. That's allowed them to achieve a level of preparedness that still eludes some other areas. You've also purchased a robot named Miss Daisy to help dismantle bombs and dispose of toxic chemicals. How many times have the chemical suits and packs been used since they were acquired? Also, how many times has the robot been used?

Moore: I don't have the figures on the suits. I do know they have been used by various volunteer fire departments. If you recall, recently we had that major I-80 accident out here where several people were killed involving 27 vehicles. Haz-mat was involved with that. But we don't monitor that. ...

I believe seven or eight times the robot has been used. ... It was used recently in a potential bioterrorist-type letter sent to the governor of the state. I was present when it was used to detonate a potential incendiary device. ... Right after we purchased it, two individuals were arrested near Cheyenne by the Wyoming Highway Patrol. They had nine pipe bombs with them. The robot was used to transport those pipe bombs and destroy them safely. We have utilized the robot very effectively since purchasing it.

Stateline.org: The things your office has purchased seem to be to respond to a disaster, rather than to prevent it. Has there been a similar effort to prevent a terrorist attack? What is coming up in that arena?

Moore: One major item we are looking at, which I think is consistent throughout the United States, is the inability of first responders to communicate with each other. Wyoming is one of those states that is developing a statewide communications program for our first responders, known as WyoLink. A substantial amount of our funding is going into that by the local communities as well as the state so we can develop a very effective statewide communications system for the first responders' ability to talk to each other in a time of crisis.

Stateline.org:In terms of landmarks and critical infrastructure, what are some of the specific homeland security threats that Wyoming faces?

Moore: We look at our interstate highway system, which carries I've been told 60 to 70 percent of the haz-mat materials, which can be used by terrorists to create weapons of mass destruction. We have two major railroads. ... We have an agricultural concern because of the cattle. We have a lot of cattle stations that provide cattle throughout the United States. We have those state and federal parks, such as Yellowstone, Grand Teton, which have a lot of travelers and visitors.

So we have those symbolic areas that would be targets for terrorists. So we believe we have our share of potential targets that would be considered by both domestic and foreign terrorists.

Stateline.org: Wyoming got $27.80 in 2005 to help protect each state resident - twice as much as for every New Yorker and three times more than every Californian. Now I know you don't set the funding level you get, but do you think such a large discrepancy in per-capita funding is justified?

Moore: That's a question for the United States Congress. But you have to remember, we have rural, limited-population areas and because of the weather concerns we have here where interstates are closed, we have to ensure that a local community whether it has 100 people, up to our largest city, which may have 55,000 that they have all the tools and the equipment necessary to handle a potential natural, man-made or terrorist event. So that is one reason why I believe you see that that per capita is high.

Stateline.org: Should risk be a factor in determining how state homeland security grant money is distributed? How should that risk be assessed and by whom?

Moore: We are awaiting guidance from the United States Department of Homeland Security to define how they are going to use risk in the vulnerability assessment. ... We want to hold off until they determine what is the risk factor that addresses homeland security.

Stateline.org: The recent detection of a case of mad cow disease in Canada has re-ignited concerns about agri-terrorism here in the United States. How much of Wyoming's federally allocated homeland security money has gone to prevent agri-terrorism and what has that money been used for?

Moore: In Wyoming, the state veterinarian is responsible. They have gotten some funding to look at agri-terrorism. ... In addition to that, a recent grant was given to our Wyoming Department of Agriculture to do an assessment of the role of agri-terrorism in Wyoming ... to determine what needs to be looked at, what is the vulnerability and how can we address it. ... It's a $185,000 (grant). ... Each of the counties have reviewed agri-terrorism in their plan. ... So there are some things already happening in the counties. They have taken into account the vulnerability of agri-terrorism from the 2003 grant on.

Stateline.org: There have been a lot of complaints from state and local officials about homeland security funding getting stuck in the pipeline so it is slow to reach first responders and also some complains that states aren't getting much guidance on proper use of funds from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Approximately how much, if any, of Wyoming's homeland security funding is stuck in the pipeline?

Moore: I don't think any of it is. We are very fortunate. I don't have the final estimates, but for the '02 grant, that money has all been expended to our first responders and others. The '03 grant, which is due to expire March 31 of this year, ... somewhere around 90 percent of that money has been expended both at the local level and the state level.

So I'm very pleased with our performance, and I will tell you if I had to rate the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, I would give them an A-plus. They have been very, very cooperative, been responsive -- almost within the hour to our needs. So we have no complaints whatsoever. I don't understand where that's coming from because if you follow their procedures and policies, there is no delay whatsoever.

Stateline.org: What about determining appropriate uses for the money? Have you had any problems there?

Moore: No, I think it's very well defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It's consistent with our national effort to enhance our first responders and prepare ourselves for the threat of terrorism. I think it's been well defined and well reviewed.

Stateline.org: Thank you.
 
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