Published Thursday, May 23, 2013 | 3:14 p.m.
Updated Thursday, May 23, 2013 | 5:06 p.m.
With millions of visitors annually cramming into a world-famous stretch of hotels and casinos, does Las Vegas present an appealing target for terrorists?
Not enough to persuade the federal government to continue funding counterterrorism efforts here.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Tuesday it was pulling the Las Vegas area’s funding for counterterrorism activities for FY2013. The $1.8 million Las Vegas received a year ago from Homeland Security was down significantly from years past — the federal grant reached a high of $9 million in 2008.
Funding is based on a formula that weighs the threat of an attack, a city’s vulnerability and the potential consequences of an attack. A month ago it was announced that Las Vegas fell three spots in this year’s national rankings, from 30 to 33. The drop prompted the federal government’s announcement Tuesday.
The news, though not unexpected, has area politicians crying foul.
“I think there’s no question that Clark County is just as worthy – in some cases, MORE worthy – of this funding as some of the other communities on this list,” Clark County Commission chairman Steve Sisolak said in a statement.
Congresswoman Dina Titus laid out Las Vegas’ case in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
“…We expect that 40.1 million travelers will visit Las Vegas, representing an increase of 400,000 people over last year. An increased number of visitors to Las Vegas also represents and in increase in opportunities for potential terrorists. As we saw in the tragic attacks in Boston just a few weeks ago, terrorists continue to target high profile and high traffic areas. On any given day, tens of thousands of tourists walk along the 4.2 mile Las Vegas Strip, home to 62,000 hotel rooms and 15 of the world's 25 largest hotels.”
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said she was “outraged” and “disappointed” upon hearing the news, and pointed out that in the nine years prior to this decision the funding for the area had dropped 82.5 percent.
“Yet nothing has changed,” the mayor said. “All of the risk factors that were there are as evident today as they were then. So it’s is a very disturbing time for us here. Everyone should be outraged by this.”
Metro Police had used the Homeland Security funding to operate the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center, also known as the Fusion Center. The 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.
Metro Sheriff Doug Gillespie, in an interview earlier this week, said a loss of the funding wouldn’t spell the death-knell of the operation. Through the years, Metro has moved the cost of the center’s operations into its general fund budget. The "overwhelming number of positions (in the center) are general-fund employee positions," he said.
Metro’s anti-terrorism responsibilities would not change, Gillespie said, but he added, “the funding aspect is a concern.”
In terms of homeland security in Las Vegas, he said: "I think we do a great job identifying what we need to do. What concerns me is if something would happen at multiple locations — having the resources to effectively respond and mitigate."
Goodman was complimentary of Metro but stern in her criticism of the Homeland Security ranking.
"We have a wonderful Metropolitan Police Department. We certainly have wonderful support and first-responders, and we are very comfortable in where we are in our city. But certainly we are as much a target, with our name out there worldwide, as London or New York or any of the big metropolitan cities of the world," she said.
Las Vegas emergency manager Carolyn Levering said the state allotment for Homeland Security funding this year will be $3.4 million, and there will be several meetings in the coming months on how to dole out the money, with $8 million in requests.
Levering said the federal formula does include visitor volume in its population density metric, however the formula ignores federal assets such as military bases or the Hoover Dam
“It’s a good thing in one respect, in that nobody gets credit for federal facilities in their backyard,” Levering said. “On the other hand it doesn’t take into consideration the extreme value of these particular federal facilities, with the national nuclear test site … and everyone knows Creech is the drone base for our war on terror. To not include those facilities maybe it makes it easier for DHS, because they don’t have to count it for anybody, but it sure does hurt our case.”
Sisolak said he was hopeful Southern Nevada’s congressional delegation would get the Obama administration to rethink its decision.
“I think our arguments for continued Homeland Security funding are strong,” Sisolak said. “While we lost out on this round of funding, I’m very hopeful that our congressional delegation and the administration itself will rectify this oversight. That would be the right course of action for everyone. I would simply urge our citizens to let their congressional representatives know how important this is to our community.”
Staff reporter Jackie Valley contributed to this story.