By Lee Ann O’Neal | Texas Watchdog
HOUSTON — Thanks to the Urban Areas Security Initiative there are two feral hog catchers at the ready to make Liberty County, Texas, a safer place to live.
Like the $65 for the brace of hog snares, the Department of Homeland Security has little idea whether the $7.1 billion it has spent on the initiative during the past decade has provided real security, a new report by government spending watchdog U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., says.
Guidelines for the grant program are broad as to be nonexistent and riddled with politics, the report says.
“FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) could not explain precisely how the UASI program has closed security gaps or prepared the nation in the event of another attack. In part, FEMA has done very little oversight of the program, allowing cities to spend the money on almost anything they want, as long as it has broad ties to terror prevention.”
Broad indeed, if one supposes that terrorists may one day unleash feral hogs on the people of Liberty County northeast of Houston.
Officials there used homeland security funds on two hog catchers, which is making the national rounds today and was first revealed last year by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram — which also broke news of a $21 fish tank, a $24,000 “latrine on wheels” and two 2011 Camaros, $30,884 a pop, purchased in the name of securing the Texas homeland.
Liberty County had in mind a threat like Hurricane Ike, not a terrorist attack, when it purchased two hog snares, at $32.50 each, in March 2010, according to an emergency management official.
Following that 2008 storm, “thousands of head of livestock were run out of their normal pastureland due to high water or escaped due to damaged fences,” Tom Branch, Liberty County coordinator of emergency management and homeland security, said via e-mail.
By state mandate, counties must evacuate people who cannot do so on their own, Branch said. This mandate extends to their pets.
So far, though, the snares have not been used.
“To my knowledge they have not been used as we have been fortunate enough not to have a disaster since they were purchased,” Branch said. “These are not things one would use daily, but this equipment would be invaluable when trying to round up animals during a disaster.”
Also unused is the six-figure drone, a Vanguard ShadowHawk, purchased by the sheriff’s department in Montgomery County north of Houston, population, 471,734. (For a photo of the ShadowHawk, see page 44 of the report.)
The ShadowHawk can be customized to send out flares or fire a Taser and “provides sophisticated and covert eyes-on-target capabilities to SWAT and other law enforcement teams,” the PoliceOne website for law enforcement boasts.
Those finely honed capabilities have not been tested in Montgomery County, though, because of FAA regulations, the sheriff’s chief deputy told the San Antonio Express-News last month.
Contact Lee Ann O’Neal at [email protected] or 713-980-9777.
— Edited by Kelly Carson, [email protected]