- Associated Press - Sunday, June 8, 2014

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota’s spending of the more than $100 million it has received since 2003 in homeland security grants has been criticized in a federal report.

The state ranks sixth in the nation on per capita homeland security spending. But the money meant to keep the state safe from a terrorist attack has been spent in a variety of ways, including the purchase of fire trucks and ambulances for small communities, communications gear for local and county police, and surveillance cameras for schools and police stations, the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1kJc4kQ ) reported Sunday.

A federal report issued in May questioned whether that has been money well spent.

“We were unable to determine the extent to which the (federal homeland security) grants enhanced the state’s ability to prepare for and respond to disasters and acts of terrorism,” according to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General Report. “The state does not have a system to measure preparedness.”

Meanwhile, state officials have acknowledged that South Dakota has very little threat of terrorism.

The newspaper reported that the most recent South Dakota Homeland Security strategic plan implicitly mentions that lack of threats. When listing the menaces to the state, the report mentioned white supremacist organizations, and the chance that environmentalists might attack the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine or Keystone XL pipeline.

The only terrorist threat cited in the report is the possibility that someone in the state might become a radical and build a bomb from instructions found online.

Law enforcement officials, whose departments have benefited from some of the grants, are defending how the South Dakota Office of Homeland Security has allocated some of the funds.

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said he agrees with the use of the money to pay for regional communications systems. It’s all about “interoperability,” Thom said.

“Say something catastrophic happens in Rapid City or happens in Spearfish or wherever. Units that respond will have the ability to go to a common channel and talk to each other,” Thom said.

Steve Pluta, a former FBI investigator who became director of the state Office of Homeland Security in 2013, said disaster-preparation exercises that the office helps coordinate are evidence the money is being well-spent.

He also told the newspaper that even before the May report, he had begun working on a better strategic plan for the state.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com