Wisconsin still not ready for terror attack, 10 years after 9/11

Since 9/11>, the federal government has spent more than $300 million helping Wisconsin prepare for terrorist attacks and natural disasters. We found that one of the state's top priorities has yet to be fulfilled. In this story we tell you what you've been getting for the money, and why local officials say a recent decision in Washington could leave Milwaukee vulnerable to a future terrorist attack.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks prompted a massive federal spending effort to beef up local police and fire departments across the country. Wisconsin's share of Homeland Security funds is dwindling.

In 2003 and 2004, Kevin Williams was the Director of Emergency Management in Walworth County, which put more than $200,000 into what was listed as a WMD response vehicle.

It's now the county's crime scene truck. The county also spent $65,000 on 500 gas masks and 1,000 filters. Williams says, "It was decided that every police car in Walworth County would receive a case with two gas masks in it."

They spent another $65,000 for chemical suits and decontamination kits. The Elkhorn Fire Chief told us, "We have not had the misfortune of having to use it, but we do have it in place. And we do train with it, and in an event we would be prepared."

Most of the gas mask kits are still sitting in the trunks of patrol cars, unused. Williams says, "The money has been spend, the equipment is here. It's ready to go, and if there's a need, they'll have it."

The filters have a limited shelf life. They expire in 2013. When they do finally expire, Williams says each department will have to decide if it's worth the money to buy new ones.

Williams says the gas masks were a good call, but they highlight a difficult choice emergency managers had to make: buy stuff for a terrorist attack that may never come or buy things you can use everyday.

Instead of buying gas masks, Ozaukee County spent $30,000 on metal detectors for every police department.

A FOX6 investigation in 2005 found that none of the metal detectors were being used at "large public gatherings" that "could be the target of terrorist attacks" as the application stated.

In fact, one of them wasn't being used at all. Thiensville Police Chief Richard Preston said, "We never did really have to set it up as the board of trustees here did not feel they wanted people screened as they go through Thiensville Village Hall to go to a board meeting."

Chief Preston says he shipped his metal detector over to the county justice center where it's still being used for courthouse security, not homeland security.

Ozaukee County Emergency Management Mark Owen said, "I think the priorities have been more focused as the homeland security grant programs have matured, let's call it."

Owen is now the emergency manager in Ozaukee County, which has recently been focused on improving radio communications. Bad radio communication systems were a major problem in New York on 9/11.

John Mesich is the Ozaukee County Communications Manager, and it's his job to make sure law enforcement agencies within the county can talk to each other during a major event.

Since 2003, Wisconsin has spent $79 million to improve radio interoperability. An audit released last year declared that a top priority remains unmet, the development of a statewide communications system known as WISCOM.

According to Tami Jackson with the Office of Justice Assistant, WISCOM is compromised of 80 radio towers and repeaters scattered across the state.

It will eventually allow a police officer in Milwaukee to communicate with a firefighter in Eau Claire, but the system has yet to go online a decade after 9/11. Jackson says, "We're still conducting the testing, but we expect it to be complete in November."

Even then, most police and fire departments in the state won't be able to use it.

In Walworth County, fewer than 10% of the public safety radios currently in use are compatible with WISCOM.

In Ozaukee County, almost none of them are. Now, a major funding source for upgrading equipment has disappeared.

The Department of Homeland Security scaled back the so-called 'Urban Area Security Initiative.' Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke says, "It's a huge concern. I think it's shortsighted."

Milwaukee was among the mid-sized cities dropped from the program, a loss of more than four million dollars a year. Sheriff Clarke says, "You know what I heard from Janet Napolitano when she made that decision that came out of Homeland Security. What I heard was, this isn't that important anymore. That's what I heard."

Sheriff Clarke still believes his county could be a target for a terrorist attack.

So after ten years and $300 million after 9/11, we may be better off. However, we are still vulnerable.

According to state auditors, the cost of getting local police and firefighters the radios they need to use the WISCOM system could pose challenges. Those costs are currently unknown.