Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Cities Taking on New Security Roles amid Economic Concerns

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Cities Taking on New Security Roles amid Economic Concerns

Article excerpt

Nearly a year after September 11, city officials put biological, chemical and cyber terrorism at the top of their list of concerns about terrorist threats, according to a new State of America's Cities Survey of 725 cities by the National League of Cities. But some top concerns, like cyber-terrorism, are addressed by only a small number of cities in their anti-terrorism planning.

The survey reveals that America's cities are taking on new responsibilities related to homeland security, while at the same time traditional concerns about crime, the economy and infrastructure are also requiring greater attention. These added responsibilities come at a time when city officials are also more and more concerned about local fiscal and economic conditions, and point to a need for a real partnership with federal and state government.

"Cities are the natural targets of this evolving terrorist threat, and we have risen to the challenge of protecting citizens over the past year" said National League of Cities President Karen Anderson, mayor of Minnetonka, Minn. "But even though cities are at the very center of homeland security, they seem to be an afterthought when it comes to federal and state priorities for providing funding and communicating key information."

Biological, Chemical, and Cyber Terrorism Top Anti-Terrorism Concerns

The survey reveals that biological terrorism topped the list of current concerns (mentioned by 82 percent of all cities and 95 percent of large cities--100,000-plus in population), followed by chemical threats (81 and 92 percent), and cyberterroriam (80 and 91 percent). Other top concerns were car bombs (70 percent of all cities and 91 percent of large cities), "dirty" bombs that release nuclear material (67 and 85 percent), radiological attacks (62 and 78 percent), suicide bombs (62 and 82 percent), and airplanes used as weapons (60 and 76 percent). City leaders in larger cities were more likely to express concern about all types of terrorism.

For some threats, there are large gaps between concern and planning. Cyberterrorism is a concern of 80 percent of all cities but only 26 percent said their plans address cyberterrorism. Among large cities, 91 percent are concerned about cyberterrorism but only 43 percent have developed strategies that address that threat in their anti-terrorism plans. Sixty-seven percent of all cities are concerned about dirty bombs but only 29 percent address that threat in their plans. Among large cities, 86 percent are concerned about dirty bombs and 54 percent have addressed the threat in their plans.

The survey also found that only one in five cities (20 percent) had integrated the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System into local planning efforts. Thirty-six percent said they had not integrated the federal alert system with their plans and 32 percent said they were working on it. Slightly more of large cities said they had integrated the alert system into their plans (27 percent) and 44 percent said they were working on it.

Placing the threat of terrorism in perspective, cities cited traditional, ongoing issues more often than terrorism as one of their top concerns. Ranking first was the need for traditional public safety and crime prevention (cited by 62 percent of all dries and 69 percent of large cities), followed by the economic conditions (55 percent of all cities and 53 percent of large cities), and infrastructure investment (44 percent of all cities). Among all cities, terrorism readiness ranked fourth with 34 percent mentioning it among top priorities. However, among large cities, terrorism tied with economic conditions as the second most often cited concern (53 percent).

Fiscal Impacts

The addition of new anti-terrorism responsibilities, combined with heightened concerns about the traditional and ongoing issues, comes at a time when city fiscal conditions are at a 10-year low. …

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