Federal money for homeland security in Maine is dwindling and, to grab what money is available this year, hundreds of organizations across the state have filed grant proposals to fund safety projects while they can.

Three school districts in Oxford County – SADs 17, 39 and 44 – have asked for $198,000 in homeland security funding to buy a tracking system for buses, so administrators would know where buses are during emergencies. SAD 17, which covers Harrison, Hebron, Norway, Otisfield, Oxford, Paris, Waterford and West Paris, has also appealed for an additional $600,000 to buy security fencing, electronic door locks, an emergency generator and other technology.

The Auburn Police Department wants $1.9 million for equipment that would allow 16 police forces in Androscoggin and Franklin counties to access a communal database from police cruisers. Auburn Deputy Police Chief Phillip Crowell said this equipment would aid investigations.

And Auburn’s high school has requested $161,000 for security cameras, call boxes and an attachment to a wireless citywide video network monitored by Lewiston-Auburn 911. The school system has also asked for a generator for the new elementary school that will replace Lake Street Elementary School so it could serve as a community shelter.

In total, 170 organizations across Maine are seeking $35 million, according to Bruce Fitzgerald of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

But this year, only about $14.7 million of homeland security money is available in Maine. This is down from $22 million in 2004. And next year, Maine’s homeland security allotment has been cut by half, to about $7 million, leaving roughly $5.6 million for local-level projects, officials said.

Arthur Cleaves, MEMA’s director, said, “The homeland security funding at the national level has been pushed toward an urban security initiative, which says that each of the large urban areas receive more money based on threat. But even though Maine is small population-wise, it has critical things other states don’t have.”

Fitzgerald pointed out that Maine is made vulnerable by its extensive Canadian border and long Atlantic Ocean coastline. “The challenge for Maine would be getting the Department of Homeland Security to understand we still have risks,” he said.

Grant recipients will be notified in December, Fitzgerald said.

Mark Eastman, SAD 17 superintendent, explained that the bus tracking system for the school districts would aid responses to a variety of dilemmas – from icy roads to hijacking or a terrorist ambush.

Cleaves said MEMA looks to fund projects that would alleviate dangers in a variety of hazards, from inclement weather to possible attacks.

The siege of a Russian school last year by extremists has upped the focus on schools as potential terrorist targets, according to Eastman.

Fitzgerald said many schools in Maine have requested security equipment and that it is part of Maine’s homeland prerogative to make schools hardier.

Eastman said, “We are not feeling particularly vulnerable to terrorists.” He added, though, “If we have monitored entrances and increased communication technology, we hopefully will have a deterrent if we do have an emergency. And we don’t have the money locally to do this.”

Nancy Tremblay, grant writer for Auburn school district, said, “When we wrote the proposal, the primary area of concern regarding potential violence and terrorists’ attacks was the ability of school administrators to adequately secure and monitor facilities at ELHS” in a reference to Edward Little High School.

She said the school already has an emergency plan in place, but the additional technology the school hopes to acquire would improve its emergency preparedness.

And now is the time to complete these projects. Crowell, of the Auburn police department, said, “We know homeland security funds are getting smaller. That’s why we’re acting now.”

Besides devising plans to make facilities from schools to public utilities safer from intruders, many organizations have asked for greater communication capacity.

Joanne Potvin, director of Androscoggin County’s Emergency Management Agency, said there are about 40 applications in her county for homeland security funding. “The majority of requests came from communications equipment. In any emergency, there is lack of communication ability,” she said.

But she is not particularly worried about the diminishing dollars for homeland security. Since 2003, Androscoggin County has received $1.5 million to enhance emergency response systems and, because of that, she said the county is in good shape to handle most anything. “We certainly have increased capabilities than we had three, four years ago,” Potvin said.

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