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I peruse a lot of news sites and blogs in the mornings. It's a habit I picked up working in DC, and one I've consciously continued, keeping abreast of policy and analysis in the areas of homeland security, national security, and international relations. One of my more off-kilter haunts is The Jawa Report, which tends to focus on the cyber-information-warfare portion of our current fight against Islamic extremism. They're rude, crass, and frequently post NSFW content (under a cut), but the regulars are definitely out there making a difference. I'm always appreciative of the fact that Rusty and crew don't mince words.

Checking things out this morning, I came across a post from Howie, "Toche Station vs Anchorhead & Mos Eisley", which discusses some exchanges between columnist Ezra Klein and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. Apparently, Klein started by posting "Why We Still Need Cities," at the Washington Post. In it, he skirted the issue of reducing rural subsidies, and pimped a book by Ed Glaeser called Why We Still Need Cities. Secretary Vilsack contacted Klein, and they had something of a rebuttal discussion, focussing on the necessity of rural life as a balance to urban life. It was an interesting discussion, with Vilsack emphasizing not only the agricultural necessities, but also the necessity of the moral and ethical code which exists in rural communities.

There was a lot of repetition in the second discussion, but it got me to thinking. Urban vs. rural has been a hot topic of conversation for me of late, especially in regard to emergency management funding. Large cities -- New York, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, etc. -- have been the focus of most efforts. This makes sense, given the threat and risk associated with being centers of industry, culture, and having high population densities. As a result, the cities have access to a lot of different funding, from allocations that "pass through" the state to them, to direct allocations under specialized programs, such as the Urban Area Security Initiative.

Threat and risk in rural areas is, of course, viewed at a much lower level: Most of the rural emergency management personnel in my area expect to respond to agricultural issues or hurricanes, rather than "man-caused disasters." For the most part, they would be right. But my question is this: What happens when there is an incident in the larger metro area, affecting not only residents, but also the first responders? It's the rural areas adjacent to the metro who will be called upon to offer assistance; they'll be the ones providing not only their own equipment, but also providing additional responders when the city police, fire, and EMS are overwhelmed or simply cannot respond themselves.

While not having to meet the same requirements as the larger cities, these smaller jurisdictions must still meet similar mandates, theoretically scaled for their populations, threats, and risks. Some more rural jurisdictions don't have trouble with this. Others, especially those with more livestock than people, have a harder time gathering the general funds through tax revenues to meet said requirements. They rely on emergency management funding from DHS to help close the gaps -- planning, training, equipment, personnel. With emphasis on the larger cities, however, and a gradual reduction in overall grant funding, these smaller jurisdictions are struggling.

In my own region, some of this can be attributed to a failed process. When awards to the state are announced, my agency accepts applications for projects. These applications are reviewed by a regional homeland security committee, who then makes recommendations for funding. And, just because an application is funded does not mean they will get the whole amount: One jurisdiction, requesting over $500,000 to complete their transition to a new radio system, received only $189,000 for the installation of a back-up generator. Other jurisdictions received nothing at all. Most of the funding was allocated toward projects in the major metropolitan area.

That a majority of the funding went to the metro isn't necessarily the problem. There can be no denying that maintaining the safety and security of the metro area is an expensive proposition. The problem -- and where the process fails our rural areas -- is that there is no formal evaluation process for the project applications. They are simply reviewed and discussed in committee, a committee where the metro area holds most of the positions of power. Admittedly, the rural jurisdictions also have a voice on this committee. There are a few county judges who have little qualms about stepping up but the fact remains that most of the membership rarely puts a check on the influence of the city. Who wants to go up against an 800 lb. gorilla, after all?

I have yet to meet a member of the emergency management community who doesn't take the lives of their citizens and their first responders seriously. I have yet to meet a member of the emergency management community who does not try to use his or her resources effectively -- especially when there are fewer and fewer available. But with the cities narrowing capability gaps by leaps and bounds, we must now also look to closing those same gaps for the adjacent rural areas. Their ability to respond affects not only their own populations, but also that of the urban area. It is essential to acknowledge that reality, and direct funding appropriately.

We depend on each other. It's time to act like it.
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