The state of Idaho produced a lengthy spreadsheet and other documents in response to a request submitted under the state’s open-records law for information about its anti-terrorism grant spending. While the information is not as detailed as we would have preferred, readers can still view spending activity by county, cost of the equipment purchased, year it was acquired and more. The file is available here along with the additional records supplied by the state. Idaho’s Bureau of Homeland Security did a better job than most states of making material available. In a number of cases, states responded that they weren’t tracking purchases in any electronic format at all, such as a spreadsheet. They only had piles of paper documents to verify expenditures. That’s telling since state agencies responsible for policing the grants may not be able to determine quickly for oversight and planning purposes which community purchased gas masks or new emergency radios in previous years. There were still limitations in Idaho’s records, however. Ada County in the southwestern section of the state where the capital is located spent $40,000 during 2003 on what were described in the data we received only as “body bags.” The entire state, in fact, used approximately $1.8 million to buy “body bags” between the years 2003 and 2007, according to our analysis. Officials later told us that category actually included other types of mass casualty gear like triage tarps, bandages and stethoscopes. “This has led to a skewing of the category,” spokesman Robert Feeley said. Another $6.3 million went toward personal protective equipment, such as gas masks and special suits to safeguard first responders against dangerous biological substances. But the details aren’t vivid enough in the records to determine quantity and the specific types of gear. Some expenditures are listed merely as “other authorized equipment” or “intervention equipment” without additional explanation. Authorities in Idaho spent another $3.4 million on vehicles equipped with tools for defeating or protecting against attacks involving CBRNE, a common acronym in emergency preparedness circles meaning chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive devices. The state’s smallest county, Clark, population 910, received nearly $600,000 in anti-terrorism grants during the years immediately following Sept. 11 when appropriations from Congress reached a peak. Clark County officials spent more than $20,000 on “body bags.” Another $10,000 paid for “explosive device mitigation and remediation equipment,” while $73,000 was spent on protective gear for firefighters and paramedics. The data also show that communities in Idaho purchased at least $24.7 million worth of interoperable communications equipment, a major post-Sept. 11 priority for emergency personnel and policymakers who want to make it easier for police and firefighters to communicate with one another. Such improved radio systems are extremely expensive, however. Half of Clark County’s grant expenditures, for instance, covered new investments in public safety communications. In addition to grant spending data, the state turned over to us regular progress reports it’s required to complete under federal guidelines as part of a substantial amount of government paperwork tied to the funding. The forms are supposed to indicate how well a state is meeting its strategic homeland security goals and objectives. Those documents show that among other things, Idaho spent $41,000 assessing the vulnerability of and protecting a distribution center owned by Albertsons Foods, the national grocery retailer. “Terrorism directed towards the headquarters facility could negatively impact the company’s ability to distribute food goods nationwide,” according to the records, many of which are redacted for what the state called security reasons. A daily newspaper covering the Twin Falls area in 2006 criticized Idaho cities and towns for “raking in far more money than they deserve in fighting terror,” arguing that the state is not a front line of the war against violent extremists. But local first responders also told the Idaho Statesman that the capital city of Boise now has a search-and-rescue team that can free victims from a collapsed building. The closest such capabilities previously existed only in Salt Lake City, more than 300 miles away.
G.W. Schulz is a reporter for Reveal, covering security, privacy, technology and criminal justice. Since joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2008, he's reported stories for NPR, KQED, Wired.com, The Dallas Morning News, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones and more. Prior to that, he wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and was an early contributor to The Chauncey Bailey Project, which won a Tom Renner Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors in 2008. Schulz also has won awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Chapter. He graduated from the University of Kansas and is based in Austin, Texas.More by G.W. Schulz