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Feds steer millions to Portland for attack response

Agencies slated to get $6.7 million, although timing is uncertain

A big pot of federal money for fighting terrorism is finally making its way to Portland.

Twenty-one months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Oregon has been designated to receive nearly $30 million in federal 'first responder' aid, with $6.7 million for the Portland area.

Officials aren't certain when it will be available, and the application procedures still aren't clear. But money is coming, and more is on the way.

The money, from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has been earmarked for local agencies that would be the first to respond in case of nuclear, biological or chemical attack.

It can't be used to buy trucks or hoses or gear for routine use but must go toward training, equipment, planning and exercises relating directly to terrorism Ñ meaning mostly communications and hazardous materials gear.

New communications equipment would help police and fire operations in Multnomah County, both in the event of a terrorist incident and in day-to-day operations. The Multnomah County sheriff's office just received $675,000 in first responder money for its river patrol, a boost that reaches beyond just terrorism issues. And extra training would raise the skill level of the county's hazmat team, which at times has handled as many as 45 methamphetamine labs a year.

'We're not close to meeting our needs,' said Sheriff Bernie Giusto. 'You have to be careful about wishes and wants and needs. But to be prepared for some catastrophic event, we simply don't have the resources for training that would allow us to properly simulate an event.'

The feds prefer seeing local governments work together. So 14 agencies in Multnomah County sat down this spring and prepared one list of the equipment they need to respond to a terrorist event or, as it's known in the new bureaucratic language, a 'CBRNE' incident. The acronym stands for chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear-explosive.

The price tag for all the equipment on that wish list: $6.9 million.

It's a big list, local officials concede, and they won't get everything in the first round of grants. But it will be used again as more federal money becomes available.

'When you don't know, you go for the gusto,' said Patty Rueter, program coordinator for the city's Bureau of Emergency Management. 'This is our wish list, and it will be used for upcoming grants.'

Here are a few highlights from the county's wish list:

• A robot. The Metropolitan Explosive Disposal Unit Ñ the bomb squad Ñ wants a $160,000 robot to help neutralize explosives.

• Detection equipment. The application seeks $557,000 in detection equipment, mostly for the hazmat team and the Portland Fire Bureau. Included on the list are an infrared mass spectrometer, chemical detectors, air monitors, radiological monitors, dosimeters and gas detectors.

• Chemical suits. The application asks for more than 3,700 chemical suits for police and fire agencies. The most expensive are $800 each.

• New communications equipment. The agencies want $1.4 million in gear, including 184 new 800 megahertz radios with handsets, costing $2,500 each, and a backup mobile dispatch system for the city Bureau of Emergency Communications.

• Medical supplies. This request carries a $957,000 price tag, including drugs and equipment. Officials hope to create six modular packages, each able to handle 100 patients, 10 of them critical.

• Security equipment. The request includes forward-looking infrared, a microwave downlink for an aerial image, hull-penetrating radar, a thermal viewer and video cameras.

The 14 agencies were the Portland, Gresham and Sauvie Island fire departments; Portland, Gresham, Troutdale and Fairview police departments; Multnomah County Public Health Department; county sheriff's office; Portland Office of Emergency Management; Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications; Portland Bureau of Water Works; county Hazardous Materials Team; and the Port of Portland.

The process has been slow because state and federal officials still are working out kinks in the system. A confusing bureaucratic tangle of federal programs means that money comes from one pocket earmarked for one type of project and another pocket earmarked for another.

The requests so far involve equipment, but overtime pay also is becoming a concern, Giusto said. When the terror-alert level bumps up to orange, for example, the U.S. Coast Guard asks the sheriff's office for help in patrolling key points along local waterways, including Bonneville Dam and gas storage tanks.

Federal money to help with overtime costs is on its way, Rueter said.

Contact Don Hamilton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..