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September 2, 2015

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Horsford intent on securing money for Las Vegas anti-terrorism center

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Steve Marcus

Capt. Al Salinas, left, gives a tour of the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center, also known as the Fusion Center, to Congressman Steven Horsford (D-NV) at Metro Police Headquarters Thursday, May 2, 2013. Officials at the center are concerned that budget cuts that might negatively affect its operations.

Horsford Tours Fusion Center

Capt. Al Salinas, left, gives a tour of the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center, also known as the Fusion Center, to Congressman Steven Horsford (D-NV) at Metro Police Headquarters Thursday, May 2, 2013. Officials at the center are concerned that budget cuts that might negatively affect its operations. Launch slideshow »

The Boston Marathon bombings happened more than 2,700 miles away, but for the men and women working on the third floor of a Metro Police building, that couldn’t have mattered less.

They were monitoring every emerging detail, every lead, every newscast with this in mind: Was it the start of something bigger? And could Las Vegas be the next target?

“We want to know as much as we can for Las Vegas’ sake,” Assistant Sheriff Gregory McCurdy said Thursday while talking about the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center.

His audience was Rep. Steven Horsford, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, who toured the SNCTC — otherwise known as the “fusion center” — as part of his plan to lobby for federal funding.

Law enforcement officials are worried the fusion center might not make the cut for federal funding, which makes up the bulk of its budget, this year. Las Vegas fell three spots, from 30 to 33, on a list of U.S. cities ranked for their vulnerability to a terror attack.

A related federal program will only award grants to 25 cities this year, said Capt. Al Salinas, director of the fusion center. He expects to learn the outcome later this month.

“The fear is we won’t rank at 25,” he said. “If we don’t rank, we don’t get funding.”

The fusion center’s primary goal is to collect information, develop intelligence and disseminate it, officials said. In the process, that means analyzing reports of suspicious activity, thwarting school violence and protecting critical infrastructure, among other functions.

Last year, the anti-terrorism center — a cross-section of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies — received $1.8 million in federal funding, the lowest amount in its existence.

“I’ve lost staff, but we have reorganized and do more with less,” Salinas said.

The center also has saved money by relocating from its location near McCarran International Airport to Metro’s headquarters. An absence of federal funding wouldn’t shutter any doors right away, but it would inhibit necessary growth, Salinas said.

The fusion center oversees an area covering 7,560 square miles that plays host to more than 38 million tourists annually.

In federal threat assessments, however, the entire Las Vegas Strip is only considered one asset despite numerous casinos and resorts lining the famous stretch of road. And that irks local politicians and law enforcement officials alike.

Horsford said he was committed to bringing a strong message to the nation’s capital that boils down to this: Help keep Las Vegas safe.

“We have to prioritize funding for our homeland security,” Horsford said after the tour. “It’s critical we keep Southern Nevada and other communities like it throughout our country safe.”

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