Somewhere at a small law firm in Washington, D.C., there is a grant writer named Barbara Zientek who is diligently trying to secure federal dollars – 255,000 of them to be exact – for Secaucus.
There’s nothing terribly amusing about that fact – most municipalities hire outside contractors to help them with applications for government grants – until one considers this detail: Zientek, of the law firm of Krivit & Krivit, is writing a grant to help Secaucus get additional funding from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, the federal agency that doles out anti-terrorism money.
It’s hard to imagine a terrorist cell, domestic or foreign, targeting little old Secaucus with New York City just six miles away, but Mayor Michael Gonnelli insists the town’s close proximity to Gotham is precisely the reason it’s vulnerable to either an attack or a terrorism-related accident.
And he believes the town needs additional resources to both prevent and properly respond to any incidents that might occur.
“Sometimes towns think this is just a golden calf.” – Jack Burns
In addition, he noted that Secaucus, like a few other Hudson County towns, has become home to a number of high density data centers that store sensitive information for Wall Street corporations and other businesses throughout the nation. Equinix, the largest data center in Secaucus, leases more than 300,000 square feet of space for its data operations.
Secaucus is also home to the MLB Network and the corporate offices of the National Basketball League, which had a bomb scare over the summer.
Don’t laugh, it could happen
The mayor could be on to something.
Some experts believe that with consistently tight security in the nation’s high profile cities and landmarks, terrorists may eventually shift their focus to other less obvious targets.
It should be noted that all of these sites in and near Secaucus are already closely guarded.
For example, an NJ Transit spokesman pointed out that there is 24-hour police security at the Lautenberg Rail Station. The New Jersey State Police have jurisdiction over turnpike exits 16E and 16W. Williams has its own private security in place, and has offered the town about $5,000 to be used for security-related training and equipment.
But Gonnelli believes the town needs a $255,000 fire boat that can patrol the Hackensack River.
“The need for us to have a boat on the water is there,” he said. “The state police periodically patrol the waters up in this area. But other than that, there’s nobody out there.”
$2M for county
Federal Homeland Security money is allocated to Homeland Security offices in each state. Those offices then divide the money among counties based on an elaborate formula. Each county then decides how best to spend its Homeland Security funding.
Hudson County has received between $2.1 million and $2.3 million in Homeland Security funding for each of the last five years, according to Jack Burns, the county’s Office of Emergency Management (OEC) coordinator. Although a small county, Burns said Hudson receives the largest amount of Homeland Security funding in New Jersey because of its proximity to New York.
Burns chairs a committee of about 14 people who decide how this money gets spent each year. The committee includes people from the Office of the Hudson County Prosecutor, local fire and police departments, local OEM offices, and hazmat teams.
“The money is not there to enhance towns; it’s there to enhance us as a county,” Burns said. “The committee decides what our needs are. But there are various parameters that have to be met according to the federal government in terms of law enforcement and training. So, with the money we get, we have to meet the needs of the county and meet those federal requirements.”
Secaucus has already received $75,000 for a back-up generator in the event of a major blackout, and the local police and fire departments have participated in various specialized trainings for first responders.
But, because money allocation is county-specific and not “town specific,” Burns said it’s unlikely Secaucus will get funding for a boat for water patrol.
“Sometimes towns think this is just a golden calf. But the federal guidelines are very restrictive,” Burns said. “Once we’re given the money, 25 percent has to go towards law enforcement; 25 percent has to go towards training; and there are only certain things you can buy, and boats are not one of them.”
Thus, the town’s need for Zientek, who is now trying to get funding for the boat from other sources.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.