Millions of dollars in homeland security spending since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is making an impact on Prince William's preparedness, county officials said last week.
More than $6 million in state and federal funding has been allocated to the county, and emergency preparedness officials have been scrambling to spend it all on equipment, training and planning.
Much of the money already spent has been used to purchase equipment such as protective gear for first responders, radios, command centers -- even a high-tech doohickey that can quickly distinguish anthrax from flour.
"These are real advantages and real improvements," County Executive Craig S. Gerhart said.
The Board of County Supervisors is expected to receive and allocate $1.9 million in state and federal grants Tuesday afternoon. Earlier that day, emergency officials are scheduled to show off the county's newly renovated emergency operations center and display new equipment.
Prince William received $4.2 million in homeland security grants shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. That helped pay for, among other things, a police mobile command post that was used during a firearms incident at Bull Run Middle School on the last day of school in June.
Gerhart said leaders in the region have been meeting to ensure that the resources are allocated efficiently. For example, Fairfax County is bolstering its urban search and rescue department, instead of every county starting an expensive program of its own. Gerhart said hundreds of portable radios would be kept in a central location and transported to a major event, instead of every county having a box or two of extra radios.
"This is being done on a regional, not a parochial, basis," Gerhart said.
Gerhart said his understanding is that the next round of federal homeland security grants will be distributed to areas at greatest risk, which will likely benefit Northern Virginia.
Officials now are looking to the next stage of preparedness spending, which will focus on vital infrastructure and redundancies in emergency communications.
"We've got to make sure we can do what we need to do," said Patrick Collins, the county's emergency services coordinator.
Collins said that Prince William's strategy is to be as independent for as long as possible during a major terrorist attack or other emergency. The assumption is that if Prince William is affected, places closer to Washington will be much more affected and will likely be unable to send help south.
"We need to be able to go out in a field with nothing -- no electricity, phone lines -- and set up a command post where we can operate for an extended period of time without any assistance," Collins said.
That means future spending on satellite phones, power generators, computers with wireless modems and other high-tech gear.
The county is also buying tents, cots, decontamination kits and other supplies for biological hazards.
Collins and Gerhart said one of the most important purchases has been a second set of protective gear for firefighters. The second set would allow them to respond to a contaminated area, change, and continue to be available to respond to other emergencies.
"If they go into one of those events and get contaminated, they're out of business," Collins said. "A firefighter without turnout gear is like a soldier without a gun."