Baltimore not eligible for extra security funds

March 28, 2007|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Emerging yesterday from a closed-door meeting with Gov. Martin O'Malley, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he would not favor expanding the National Capital Region to include more of Maryland and Virginia.

The designation, which groups Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland with Washington and several cities and counties in Northern Virginia, enables local officials to tap into homeland security funds set aside for high-risk areas. O'Malley has pushed for the area to be enlarged to include Richmond, Va., and Baltimore, cities he says would be likely to receive evacuees from any large natural disaster or terrorist attack on the capital.

Chertoff agreed that communities far beyond Washington should be prepared for such an event. But he said the National Capital Region as currently defined makes sense.

"There is a specific community of interest ... based not only on the high-impact disaster, but based on a whole lot of things that occur that are unique to this area almost every day: inaugurals, foreign dignitary visits, security issues that arise because of the fact it's the seat of government," he told reporters. "And the relationships that you need on that day-to-day basis I think are unique and focused on this area."

The Department of Homeland Security has reserved about $410 million, more than half the available dollars in its Urban Areas Security Initiative, for the National Capital Region and five other high-risk areas.

Baltimore might compete with 38 other urban areas for the remaining $336 million. The city secured $9.7 million in program funds last year, down from $15.8 million in 2004. In his first State of the State Address two months ago, O'Malley said Baltimore should have access to National Capital Region funds.

"In the event of a large-scale evacuation of our nation's capital, God forbid, as we saw happen in New Orleans, cities like Richmond and Baltimore would become sort of the Baton Rouge," the former Baltimore mayor said yesterday. "And right now, the dollars that have been invested heretofore to accommodate citizens of the nation's capital in an extended emergency have been insufficient for the sort of capabilities we'll need over a long period of time."

O'Malley spoke after meeting with Chertoff, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to discuss regional homeland security issues. O'Malley, Kaine and Fenty, all Democrats, had described disaster preparedness as a shared priority during an initial meeting in January. Fenty said yesterday that the trio would finalize a list of funding requests next week. Areas for which they will seek money include preparations for mass casualties, intelligence and information sharing and responding to weapons of mass destruction and hazardous materials.

Fenty said they would meet again soon for a "tabletop exercise" to map out the response to a catastrophe, and they would plan a joint exercise involving the National Guards of Maryland, Virginia and Washington for later this year.

Fenty has backed expanding the National Capital Region. The region is one of six nationwide designated as high-risk areas by the Department of Homeland Security in January. The others are New York and Northern New Jersey; Los Angeles; Chicago; the San Francisco Bay area and Houston.matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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