Monday, June 05, 2006

Enter to Win Homeland Security's "Save Your City" Essay Contest

New York City was shocked last week to discover that the Department of Homeland Security had awarded it $83 million less in anti-terror funding than it had the previous year, a cut of around 40%.

DHS officials told The New York Times "the city had not only done a poor job of articulating its needs in its application, but had also mishandled the application itself, failing to file it electronically as required, instead faxing its request to Washington."

Obviously if the report was poor or inadequate or filed incorrectly, someone needs to look into that. But come on, people. You don't just up and determine a city's vulnerability to terrorism based on writing skills and technicalities like filing deadlines.

What do you say following the next terrorist attack? "Hey, if you people had just submitted a proposal we liked better, we'd have given you more money." Good luck with that.

There is reason to suspect this was a politically motivated decision. I certainly don't mean to suggest that other cities -- even small, out of the way rural towns -- are not potential terror targets. The government's response to our application, however, said "New York had no national monuments or icons." If this isn't evidence that they didn't really take into consideration the attractiveness of New York as a potential target, then I don't know what is.

Very few cities have the concentration of icons or monuments recognized not just nationally but internationally that New York City does; Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Chicago, and we can throw in the St. Louis Arch and the Space Needle and the Epcott Center, but how many other American cities are as instantly recognizable worldwide as New York? None. Would you recognize a photograph of the Cleveland skyline?

Without even really having to think about it, I can list Lincoln Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the Central Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, Carnegie Hall, the Stock Exchange, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc., etc., etc.

These places are important not just because they are vulnerable and popular tourist attractions, but also because of their symbolic value. We must remember the signifcant and intentional symbolism of the 9/11 targets: the World Trade Center, an international symbol of America's staggering wealth; the Pentagon, symbol of ultimate power; the first and second largest airlines in the world, named "United" and "American" -- not Delta or Continental or Northwest; four airliners all manufactured by Boeing, America's only major manufacturer of airliners and one of the top military manufacturers in the world. None of this was accidental.

The World Trade Center in particular so dominated our skyline that even today the skyline is dominated by its absence. Every time we look at New York now, we remember. That's intentional. Very few other targets could have such lasting impact, and most of them are here.

There's another major target that's not so photogenic but is absolutely essential to our nation's economy: the New York City subway. The costs of losing subway service in New York, as illustrated by the blackout of 2003 and the strike of 2005, quickly run into the billions, and it has a national impact. We also learned from the A train fire in early 2005 that even a fairly minor incident has the potential to affect service for years. That's not to mention the potential loss of life that could occur from an attack on a subway in a dark tunnel deep under city streets. During rush hour, each subway car carries a hundred people or more; that's about 1,000 people per train. No other city in the country is as dependent on mass transit as New York.

Tellingly, the parts of the proposal that came in for harshest criticism were the programs the City has developed on its own. It's ironic, because the Republican position on disasters, as evidenced by Katrina, is that no one should be relying on the federal government, that it's up to local authorities to be responsible. Here New York City, tired of waiting for the feds to get their act together, has set up a series of programs to do just that. The Republican feds, insulted, apparently, that we took up our own initiatives, have decided to stop funding them.

If there were problems with the application, that should be addressed next year. If there were problems with the proposals, the government should have suggested improvements, not punished us by cutting our budget nearly in half. Funding for New York's anti-terrorism efforts should be based on serious analysis, not a contest.

3 comments:

Jean F. said...

"It's ironic, because the Republican position on disasters, as evidenced by Katrina, is that no one should be relying on the federal government, that it's up to local authorities to be responsible. Here New York City, tired of waiting for the feds to get their act together, has set up a series of programs to do just that. The Republican feds, insulted, apparently, that we took up our own initiatives, have decided to stop funding them."


I think, sadly, you have the answer right here. By having New York City step up and take responsibility for keeping their citizens safe and not leaving it to Homeland Security, the Republicans responded with their typical childish, petty, and tit-for-tat reaction. If Republicans really had New York City's best interest in mind they would have lauded the city's reaction and encouraged other cities to do the same. It saddens me to the core to know this is how some people use their power when they are offended by other's actions.

kr pdx said...

Andy: Yup.

Yuck.

little-cicero said...

I don't understand: where can I join this essay contest? Duh...

:)