On Halloween this year, over in Mission Bay, there was a staged “Zombie Attack” as part of a simulated combat-type event and paid with Homeland Security funds. Now that event – and other expenses from the Homeland Security bank account around the country – are being questioned and criticized as excessive.
The Mission Bay zombie event is one of several questionable expenses of a $7 billion in Homeland Security money called out Wednesday in a report from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Senator Coburn highlighted several San Diego expenses in the report. San Diego received a total $134 million under the program.
“I’m not sure we are getting much risk reduction sending people to a zombie apocalypse demonstration,” Coburn said.
The zombie attack took place during a 5-day “counterterrorism” seminar at Paradise Point in the middle of Mission Bay, the area’s largest aquatic park. It was hosted by San Diego-based HALO Corp, while Strategic Operations, a Kearny Mesa company specializing in “hyper realistic tactical training,”that sponsored the attack, hired the 40 actors to dress up as zombies. The event was justified as a “simulation of a stressful combat-type event for first responders to experience”.
Titled “Zombie Apocalypse”, the actors played dead during live action training, part of the 5-day long counter terrorism summit.
Reportedly, HALO did not receive any direct funding from Homeland Security, the federal program did pony up a cool $1,000 each for firefighters and emergency medical technicians to attend the event.
Sandy Moul, a spokeswoman for HALO, stated in a news release:
“The summit’s approval as a training event under the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) and the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) in the state of California applied to its course curriculum only.”
Strategic Operations is supposed to have covered all the costs of the zombie demonstration.
Sen. Coburn stated that his findings suggest cuts are needed in the department’s $46 billion budget. The yearlong study looked at federal documents and financial statements and found that the monies were often spent in fact subsidizing local-level police and fire department budgets. “We cannot make every community around the country invulnerable to terrorist attacks by writing large checks from Washington, D.C.,” Coburn said.
Other findings of the study and other criticisms of the use of Homeland Security funds included:
- the report criticized San Diego for its use of funds on what it claimed was a program to secure “critical cyber infrastructure.” “But when asked to describe the training program in greater detail, [an unnamed San Diego official] acknowledged that its real focus was to provide training to children to help ensure that they were not victimized by cyber criminals or online predators,” the report said.
- The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department was also criticized by the report for using funds to buy three armored vehicles and for spending $90,000 on a long range acoustic device, produced by local LRAD corp. This “acoustic device” has been used in a menacing manner by Sheriffs – for instance – at a town hall meeting chaired by Rep. Susan Davis in Spring Valley in the Summer of 2011.
- Last summer San Diego announced it would use $385,000 to buy 14 video cameras were mounted on light poles around Mission Bay, for lifeguards and others to use for monitoring.
- another Senate report accused the state of wasting $75,000 on 55 flat-screen TVs at an intelligence “fusion” center in San Diego. The TVs were being used to display calendars and watch the news.
Coburn is widely expected to be the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee in the next Congress, and his study cited abuses in a whole host of other cities around the nation, including: Phoenix, Tucson, Bakersfield, Oxnard, Riverside, Sacramento, Denver; Indianapolis; Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo and Tulsa.
- Columbus, Ohio, for example, used $98,000 to buy an underwater robot for local rivers. Peoria, Ariz., spent $90,000 to install cameras and car bomb barriers at the spring training field for the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.
- Police in Oxnard, Calif., spent $75,000 to outfit a cultural center with surveillance equipment and alarms. Officials in Clovis, Calif., used the police department’s $200,000 armored personnel carrier to patrol an annual Easter egg hunt.
See more details in this U-T San Diego report.