In closed-door conversations with officials from "Tier II" cities, as they are known, FEMA officials are not parsing their words when discussing their strategy of responding to budget cuts by prioritizing the nation's "Tier I" cities with the highest-profile targets and vulnerabilities, said Davis, who lives in Allview Estates and founded the National UASI Conference in 2005.

"They're basically telling people to get used to it, there's less money available and they're going to be focused on the things with the most return on investment," Davis said.

Among Tier II city officials, "everyone assumes there will be attrition in (emergency) capability over time, if not immediately," Davis said.

A lasting legacy

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Still, local officials aren't completely demoralized.

Despite criticisms from some in Congress that the UASI funding was poorly spent in some cases nationally, the Baltimore work group is proud of its record putting the funding toward regionally-minded programs and resources that are used often and made the region safer and more prepared, Miller said.

There are many things that came out of the work group that will last, chief among them the relationships forged between emergency officials throughout the region, Miller said.

"They've now got this Rolodex of their peers that they never had before," he said.

But even those relationships will suffer when the funding drops off, he and others said.

"That was one of the best things that I hope these communities maintain, but I fear that they won't once there's no money on the table to bring them together," Davis said.

In all, the looming cuts would mean an end to a program that did so much to protect the region, and at a time when threats continue to increase, Maloney said.

"My own personal belief, and I think the belief of a lot of my colleagues, is that the threat hasn't decreased at all. It's increasing, and to cut back the funds seems to all of us to be premature," he said. "...I could see if it was a gradual reduction, but it's like the spigot of funding has been shut off."