Indiana

Shortly after the Sept. 11 hijackings, the federal government promised it would pay closer attention to how the nation guarded its most precious and vital assets against potential terrorist attacks. Are drinking water delivery systems vulnerable? Could perpetrators bomb a chemical production facility? Former President George W. Bush issued a directive in late 2003 requiring the newly formed Department of Homeland Security to identify critical assets and coordinate the protection of them. As part of the plan, federal officials needed to develop an inventory of key resources that formed the nation’s infrastructure. That inventory became known as the National Asset Database. The list began with a reasonable number of 160 items that deserved possible security enhancements. But under pressure from Congress to make it more comprehensive, the Homeland Security Department added hundreds more, from government facilities and transportation hubs to business centers and energy pipelines. Then state and local governments were asked to provide data on their own critical infrastructure, and the list ballooned to 77,000 “assets.” It wasn’t places like New York, California, Washington, D.C. and Florida with major tourist attractions and national icons that claimed to have the most sensitive assets worthy of increased protection. It was Indiana with a population one-sixth that of California. Indiana’s list of “key resources” included the Amish Country Popcorn factory in Berne, Ind., where a Ladyfinger One Pound Gift Box goes for $7.95. The state listed 8,600 such “assets,” nearly as many as New York and California combined. Indiana and Wisconsin both reported 77 times more agricultural “assets” they considered vulnerable than their neighbors in the Midwest. The Hoosier State also included 417 nursing homes in its list. When the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general criticized the database in June of 2006 pointing to the popcorn factory as an example of “poor quality,” state officials responded that they relied on the federal government’s own definition of critical infrastructure, which included food outlets distributing to five or more states. “Now they want to make fun of us,” a spokeswoman grumbled to the South Bend Tribune. Hoosiers weren’t alone, however, according to the inspector general. Other states reported sporting goods stores, auto shops, “high stakes bingo,” an insect zoo, a check-cashing store and the Mule Day Parade. States were supposed to take into account potential catastrophic losses, economic impact and national symbolism. But a report found that local officials had “considerable latitude in interpreting what [the Department of Homeland Security] meant by a nationally critical asset.” Federal homeland security officials in Washington responded that the database wasn’t strictly limited to items considered critical. They also viewed it as a federal repository that enabled a fuller risk analysis by including common assets. But the IG questioned whether having too many was a distraction that made “resource allocation decisions more challenging.” When it comes to Indiana’s use of homeland security grants, state officials turned over hundreds of pages of documents in PDF form after we submitted a request under the state’s Access to Public Records Act. While Excel spreadsheets we obtained from other states are more convenient, you can still download and search the PDFs for keywords below, such as by local jurisdiction. Among other things, the state’s purchases included “tactical entry eyewear” costing $120 each for the Allen County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team, night-vision spotting scopes priced at $6,200 a piece and two more “night-observation devices” totaling over $18,000 for use “during tactical response to terrorist operations,” according to records. The grants also enabled Allen County to seek a $400,000 mobile-command center that it planned to pack with a 42-inch high-definition television, four laptop computers, a DVD player and more. Delaware County pursued an $80,000 bomb-disposal truck, in addition to a remotely operated robot for disarming explosives that carried its own price tag of $86,000. Authorities there also budgeted $43,000 for two bomb suits and $950 for a pair of “Delta Force” helmets with ballistic face shields as protection during “bomb and terrorist activities.” The city of Indianapolis committed to outfitting each of its public-health medics with 225 bullet-proof vests for a total price of $90,000. Inspector General Richard Skinner of the Homeland Security Department has been slowly auditing preparedness funds state by state for the last several years. His office caught up with Indiana in early 2005. After examining about $48 million the state had received over just two years, Skinner concluded that Indiana “did not know how much improvement had been made at the local level in preparing for terrorist incidents and had little basis for justifying future first responder grant funds.” A quarter-of-a-million dollars in equipment purchases made by local governments were not approved by state overseers as required, the report found, and county agencies were slow to assemble and distribute $4.5 million worth of “counter-terrorist response kits.” Two years later, the kits were still in shipping containers. That same year, however, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced a major consolidation of the state’s homeland security and disaster recovery agencies to fix perceived inefficiencies. Building safety, emergency management, responder training and other offices were placed under one roof – the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. “We have good people in our operations but one of the most dysfunctional arrangements in America,” Daniels said at the time. “We have multiple security plans and no coordinated spending. This reorganization will result in more safety for Hoosiers and at the same time, use our tax dollars more wisely.”

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