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US Terror Attack Emergency Teams Under Funded, say Experts - 2003-06-29

A group of national security experts says the United States is not spending enough money to prepare police, fire, and medical rescue personal to handle another major terrorist attack. For months, the group has been studying the needs of "first responders." The panel's final report says the men and women who make up the nation's emergency teams need far more money for equipment and training.

"This is a national crisis," said Former Senator Warren Rudman, who took a leading role in the study. "This is a question of homeland defense. This is a question of protecting the American people from unspeakable horror."

The New Hampshire Republican told NBC television's Meet the Press that this is an issue without political overtones. He said everyone realizes the "first responders" need support.

"We are not criticizing anybody," added Mr. Rudman. "We are not taking shots [lashing out rhetorically] at anybody. We are simply saying this has to be become a higher priority than it has been. And that is all we can do. It is up to elected officials to either take it seriously or not."

The study will be formally released Monday by the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent public research group.

"And uniformly, we were told that they did not feel that they had the equipment they needed to do what the public expected of them," said Jamie Metzl, who directed the project. He told "Meet the Press" that the panel of experts talked directly to firefighters, policemen, medical personnel and local rescue officials around the country.

The new Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies plan to spend about $27 billion during the next five years to fund first responders. The Council on Foreign Relations report says that figure is dangerously low, and nationwide spending on emergency preparedness should increase five-fold during that period.

A Homeland Security spokesman downplayed the report, calling the Council's proposed level of funding "grossly inflated." He said the study included little new information, and that many of the Council's other recommendations are already being implemented.