Duane R. Nichols, deputy director of the State Emergency Management Agency, and Paul H. Fennewald, Homeland Security coordinator for the state, met with local emergency response officials Friday at the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center to discuss the proposed regionalization concept for Homeland Security grant funding to streamline the application process.
During previous Homeland Security grant cycles, approximately 1,300 entities successfully applied for Homeland Security funding across the state causing a tremendous work load for staff and the duplication of equipment and resources within close geographical proximities.
In order to manage and administer the pass-through Homeland Security funding more efficiently, the state is proposing organizing into nine regions based on the Missouri State Highway Patrol's troop areas, plus the two federally-designated Urban Area Security Initiative Regions - St. Louis and Kansas City. Nichols said SEMA has already been using the Patrol's troop areas as its regions for a number of years.
Under the proposal, Local Regional Planning Commissions within these 11 regional areas will be used to organize local political subdivisions in the creation of regional grant allocation committees to decide grant funding request priorities on a regional basis. The local RPCs would be responsible for handling local administration processing of grant funding. A set administrative fee would be paid by SEMA and would not come out of grant funds.
"It will be county and municipality people that have the voting membership of a regional committee," Nichols said. Suggested composition includes emergency management directors, police and fire chiefs, sheriffs, mayors, county commissioners, private industry and county health departments among others.
Non-voting members would include representatives from SEMA for moderators and recording secretaries and from the Department of Natural Resources, the Highway Patrol, the Fire Marshal's Office, the Missouri Department of Agriculture and others as needed or desired by the regional committee.
While local emergency planning commissions (LEPC) in other parts of the state don't include law enforcement agencies, those in Southeast Missouri are very inclusive. Local officials said they would like to see fewer overlapping groups and fewer meetings instead of adding them.
"It's the people that are in this room," said Drew Juden, director of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety. "It's the people that generally get things done."
RPCs and their administrative costs have been more of a drag on resources than help in the past, according to some of the local LEPC members, and they don't want to see LEPCs phased out as part of the regionalization plan.
Local officials were not knocking the plan, however. One responder said it appears as if the new regional concept does two things for this area: it encourages cooperation among local entities and allows counties located in places other than the I-70 corridor to receive their fair share of the funding.
Nichols said emergency responders in Southeast Missouri are "the most cooperative group of people among themselves that I've ever seen."
He assured that LEPCs will retain their identities and suggested those that cross regional lines could choose which RPC to join and that LEPCs could participate in the regional committees without disrupting their structures.
Officials from St. Francis, Perry and Ste. Genevieve counties expressed concerns about being put in the area defined by the Patrol's Troop E which includes Lincoln, Pike, Montgomery and Warren counties north of St. Louis. "We're so much more aligned with these southern counties," said one official.
Mark Winkler, SEMA's coordinator for the Troop E area, said he has been working with these three counties even though they are technically out of his area because of their close relationship with the southern Bootheel counties.
"Maybe we can get a deviation on this one," Nichols offered.
In addition to discussing proposals for how the Homeland Security pie will be divided in the future, it was noted the size of the pie itself is shrinking.
The funding level for 2005 decreased around 37 percent from 2004 and it is anticipated that the total budget nationwide for 2006 will be 50 percent of that in 2005, according to Nichols.
Applicants are "going to have to make proposals that count," he advised. "Collectively your voice will be much stronger than individually."
While the feds tend to throw money at problems, Fennewald said, "you know and I know that doesn't fix things. ... We've got to spend stuff smarter."
Fennewald also discussed SEMA's Missouri Information Analysis Center which gathers and manages information on crime, terrorism, fraud, weather and many more areas in addition to having access to hundreds of databases.
He said it will serve as the "one-stop shop for information in the state of Missouri."