Region's emergency preparedness grant funding cut in half

The Baltimore region will receive about half as much federal funding from a key emergency preparedness grant program in fiscal year 2012 as it did in fiscal year 2011, according to budget figures released Feb. 17 by the Department of Homeland Security, which grants the funds.

As one of 31 cities to receive funding through the department's Urban Area Security Initiative program, Baltimore will receive about $4.1 million in 2012, compared to the $7.8 million it received in 2011.

For local emergency officials, the announcement was actually welcome news, given more dire expectations.

A $1 billion federal cut to the DHS grant budget in December had convinced many that Baltimore's UASI funding would be cut entirely, as it was this year for a handful of other cities, including Norfolk and Pittsburgh.

Instead, the glass remains half full, so to speak.

"We're relieved that the funding wasn't eliminated," said Bob Maloney, director of the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management in Baltimore and chair of the work group. "We're relieved that the federal government understood the importance of Baltimore, the Baltimore region, as an area that has critical things that need to be protected."

The Baltimore UASI program, which includes Baltimore City, Annapolis and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, has received funding since 2003, to the tune of almost $107 million, including the 2012 allocation. Funding was highest in 2004, when the area was awarded more than $17.5 million. The region otherwise received funding between $10 million and $12 million per year until more dramatic cuts were made last year.

Though the program's funding this year is by far the lowest yearly amount to date, it will allow local officials to maintain existing emergency capabilities — like the region's Central Maryland Area Radio Communications system — that were initially paid for with UASI funding and could have become too expensive to maintain were funding cut entirely, officials said.

Maloney said he is thankful that that concern can now be put to rest, at least for the time being.

"Not having the ability to prepare and protect, given the threats we face, would have been very troubling," he said.

The work group has until early May to produce a new budget proposal and grant application based on the funding allocation, something that Cal Bowman, the group's senior policy advisor, said he is already working on.

Bowman said he will have each of the group's various working committees revisit their project proposals and reevaluate what should be prioritized. The work group's executive committee will then review all proposals and make final decisions on which programs and initiatives it will be able to continue.

Bowman said the process will be like trying to "squeeze a grapefruit into the size of a lemon," and that any new initiatives will likely be "curbed and tabled for a while" in favor of continuing existing projects.

But, in general, he said he is "relieved in the sense that we're going to be able to keep the lights on for another year."

Maloney said in the next few months the executive committee, which normally meets once a month, will likely be meeting more often.

"I've sent a message out to the group, pretty much saying, 'This is the start of a very intensive work period,' " he said.

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