Minami Levonowich
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Even with further military budget cuts to the National Guard, strong partnerships and resources are in place to safeguard the state’s citizens, the adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard said.
Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli last week gave his annual report to lawmakers on changes and improvements being made to his office, which manages the National Guard, the Division of Emergency Management, and Kansas Homeland Security. Over a 10-year period, about $1.2 trillion were taken out of the state’s emergency/security budget, making it tougher to provide maximum public safety to the state, Tafanelli said. But the “very tight” relationship among the National Guard, Kansas Homeland Security, the state’s emergency management division, and federal government agencies – as well as improved local facilities – ensures that the agencies will continue to meet high security standards, Tafanelli said.
“The governor asked us to really take a good hard look at our security that we have at our facilities (and) the security that we have for our soldiers and our airmen,” Tafanelli said. “We’ve taken a number of actions to harden the facilities that we have across the state.”
Some of those actions include video monitoring of doorways, putting film on glass to keep it from shattering, and arming soldiers at the facilities to provide greater safety and security as they go about their regular duties. It’s been an “ongoing process” to make improvements and to assess security threats from across the country, Tafanelli told lawmakers.
The Intelligence Fusion Center, located in Topeka, is a resource unique to Kansas. Homeland security analysts there are dedicated to meet the classified and unclassified needs of the state, including processing information from the Pentagon, according to the center’s annual report. Seventeen states have been interested in Kansas’ ability to bring in federal resources, Tafanelli told lawmakers
“What we’re really trying to focus on is how far (ahead of) an event, before something bad happens, can we detect something and then feed that information back up into the Intel committee and take the appropriate measures to kind of (remove) those threats out of the state,” he said.
With the pressure to cut budgets, the department is looking to increase its partnerships. Last year, the National Guard teamed up with the University of Kansas School of Business to try and market to 18 through 24-year-olds the fields of emergency management, homeland security, or military service. Only about 23 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds are eligible for military service; individuals can be disqualified because of a criminal record or health issues, Tafanelli said.
As director of both Kansas Homeland Security and Kansas Emergency Management, as well as responsibilities for oversite of the Kansas Army and the Air National Guards, Tafanelli fears security threats will continue to grow in the next few years, whether they’re from ISIS, Afghanistan, China, or Korea.
“We find ourselves when we’re downsizing that the operation requirements continue to go up and the threats continue to increase,” Tafanelli said.
Other threats have become more prevalent including cyber attacks, and with the links the state and country have globally, Tafanelli said, cyber threats are a clear and present danger in Kansas every day. The department also looks at emerging health issues, such as Ebola, and what measures it needs to take.
Tafanelli remained hopeful that the state agencies will continue to take appropriate measures to ensure public safety despite past and future budgetary cuts. Under Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration, state grown has fallen to 1.8 percent, from 9.1 percent growth in the period 1966 to 2010.
In a recent press release, Brownback outlined his priorities in balancing the state’s budget and said “there are difficult decisions to be made.”
“I will not support or call for a tax increase on small businesses in Kansas,” Brownback said. “My focus is on managing spending, not on raising taxes. Our goal is not to fund the growth of state government; it is to help the Kansas economy grow.”
Edited by Maddy Mikinski