Guard commander travels to Washington, D.C. seeking security funds

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Maj. Gen. Phil Oates, commander of the Alaska National Guard, said he's not sure how much money Alaska may get to help with new anti-terrorism security measures.

But Oates said Thursday that his trip to the nation's capital provided information and contacts that should ensure the state its fair share.

Oates and other state military commanders met Thursday with President Bush. The president said he would request an extra $38 billion for homeland security in the budget for the next fiscal year and, of that, $3.5 billion will be for first responders such as fire, police and medical workers, Oates said.

Following the meeting Oates said Alaska's share will depend on how the various security factors are weighted.

''Obviously some states have larger population densities, some states have more critical infrastructure of national and international significance, some states have challenges such as Alaska where we're very, very large in terms of geography but (have) a relatively small number of people,'' Oates said.

''I think the important thing is to understand very quickly the ground rules of how these funds will be allocated and make sure Alaska competes fairly with all the other states,'' he said.

Oates said he would recommend spending the money in Alaska to increase the numbers of police, fire and medical personnel and to provide them with better equipment and training.

A few public health areas need to be strengthened as well, he said. For example, state laboratories need to be expanded so they can more safely and quickly test suspected hazards.

Since October, there have been about 140 reports of anthrax-like substances in Alaska, he said. From those incidents, about 90 samples were sent to state labs.

''We very, very quickly overstressed that capability,'' he said. No anthrax was found.

In addition, the state needs a better mobile radio system, he said.

Gov. Tony Knowles has proposed spending $100 million on new security measures in the coming year. Oates said he hopes that more than $40 million of that will come from the federal homeland security money.

Beyond providing money, federal emergency officials are considering creation of a nationwide ranking system to indicate the danger from terrorist attack at any given time, Oates said.

Linked with that, he said, should be new advance authority for governors to call out National Guard troops to protect important facilities, including nuclear power plants, dams and pipelines when faced with a certain threat level.

Such call-outs should be covered by federal money, he said. Currently, the cost of a governor's call-out falls to the state if it is not first approved by federal officials. Such approval can be cumbersome, he said.

Bypassing federal oversight while still retaining federal financial support is justified when things like the trans-Alaska oil pipeline are threatened, Oates said.

''The loss of those types of facilities would be devastating to the state as well as the nation, and in some cases even the world,'' he said.

No National Guard troops are currently stationed along the pipeline, Oates said. The Alaska State Defense Force, a state-sponsored militia working under direction of the Alaska State Troopers, is running a checkpoint at the Yukon River on the Dalton Highway.

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