In testimony before several congressional committees, Tom Ridge, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said the department is considering a new formula for allocating funds to emergency first responders for counter terrorism and other disaster preparedness.

Office of Domestic Preparedness Formula

Currently, the Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP) formula for distributing state and local Homeland Security Grants is based primarily on population, with every state guaranteed a minimum percent of the overall grant - currently 0.05 percent. Ridge stressed "at the end of the day ... we shouldn't distribute a security dollar unless it is consistent with ... an overarching plan brought into us by the states to ensure coordination at the local level."

He has called on lawmakers to convey the message that states must craft a strategy to coordinate with their local communities before receiving federal funds. Critics of this distribution formula contend that less vulnerable areas receive more funding per person than other high-density jurisdictions with more critical infrastructure and security needs. For instance, in distributing the $566 million provided under the State Homeland Security Grant Program for FY03, California received $1.33 per person and New York received $1.39 per person, while Wyoming received $9.78 per person and North Dakota received $7.76 per person.

Many in Congress have begun to question the current distribution formula and, at a recent Senate Government Affairs Committee hearing, they began to address this issue. "Our current formula fails to recognize that linear population increases do not equate into linear threat increases," Ridge said of the grant-distribution process. As a result, the department is considering how to weigh those factors as well as a region's degree of vulnerability. Although neither Congress nor the department have yet to submit a detailed legislative draft of their proposal, Ridge indicated that any new formula would take into account factors such as population density, critical infrastructure, national icons, terrorism intelligence and vulnerability.

Regional strategies for homeland security

NACo has recommended that any changes to the grant program support continued funding to both large and rural communities and that funding to local governments be predicated upon comprehensive planning and distributed to local governments and regional jurisdictions (multiple cities, towns, and counties in a situated geographic area). Many counties have favored a regional approach in securing their communities from a potential terrorist threat. In fact, given the limited federal dollars available for homeland security, many counties such as Hennepin, Minn., Johnson County, Kan. and Erie County, N.Y. have begun to share resources with their neighboring communities.

A regional approach to preparedness, prevention and response will best allow the resources of multiple jurisdictions to be quickly employed in the event of a terrorist incident, according to Hennepin County (Minn.) Commissioner Randy Johnson, member of NACo's Homeland Security Task Force. The diverse makeup of participating levels of state and local governments allows for special expertise to be quickly identified and deployed, he explained.

Meanwhile, for smaller counties and denser areas of the nation - many of which have critical infrastructures in their communities such as nuclear reactors and dams - the benefits of regional collaboration will add to their capacity to respond to all hazards, not just terrorism, said Michael Selves, emergency manager, Johnson County, Kan., also a member of NACo's Homeland Security Task Force.

High threat areas

Ridge also began to address the challenges of "high threat urban areas" and their need for additional resources. This topic has become an issue of frequent debate and will have an overall effect on how funds are dispersed to state and local governments ? especially counties. The department recently provided $100 million directly to several cities and only awarded the counties of the consolidated county/city of New York and the National Capital Region as part of