- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — An agency that has battled poverty for 40 years will begin guarding against terrorism this fall.

The Office of Human Affairs is one of 10 anti-poverty agencies in the country to receive a $10,000 grant to establish a terrorism-preparedness program for the poor.

“It’s a departure from what a community-action agency normally does,” said Robert Ayers, executive director of the office.

Still, Mr. Ayers said, his office is in an ideal position to disseminate emergency plans.

“Our feeling is the information has trouble getting down into neighborhoods where low-income folks live,” Mr. Ayers said. “We want to talk to people, to be in the mix, to get that information out to the community so that everybody is saved.”

The Office of Human Affairs assists low-income residents of Newport News, Hampton and Poquoson.

The agency is the only one in the state to receive the grant.

The $10,000 Community Land Security grants are part of a nonprofit program funded by the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Newport News was chosen because of its proximity to military bases and the Surry nuclear power plant. The city will match the grant with $10,000.

The funding is intended to fill a gap in the nation’s emergency preparedness.

“Low-income communities are least likely to have any information about terrorism, least likely to have positive relationships with law enforcement and least likely to have any information on evacuation plans,” said Derrick Span, national president of the District-based Community Action Partnership.

“Yet, they are very likely to be situated by chemical plants and power plants, thus making them susceptible,” Mr. Span told the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk.

Newport News will be required to hold at least four community meetings to address terrorism-prevention efforts, according to the national program.

The office will conduct simulations of emergencies and team with local emergency planners to provide information on evacuation routes, emergency shelters and other preparedness efforts.

Mr. Ayers said the goal is to reach 25,000 to 30,000 Newport News residents.

Mr. Span said he hopes to extend the program to dozens, if not hundreds, more communities nationwide.

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