A NATIONAL DAY OF REMEMBRANCE - The Explorer: Import

A NATIONAL DAY OF REMEMBRANCE

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Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Fewer flags are flying from car windows and homes around town since the post -9/11 days of patriotic fervor, but waiting in the wings is a wellspring of volunteerism just waiting to be tapped, local experts involved in improving homeland security agree.

That's what the Oro Valley Citizens Corps Council and Regional Citizens Corps Council for Homeland Security of Southern Arizona are gearing up to do.

"There's no sense of lethargy I can detect," said Christine Harvey, chairwoman of the regional Citizens Corps Council for Homeland Security.

In the past month alone, volunteer membership in the group, initially established as Operation Safe Tucson, has grown from 300 to more than 900 people representing Pima County as well as Cochise and Santa Cruz counties.

While that was happening, both groups have been assembling the administrative framework to launch a slew of crisis response and preparedness programs to help ensure the events of that tragic day are never repeated. "Never" again remains a byword.

In Oro Valley, assessments have been made by the Police Department of potential threats to the city's water supplies, businesses such as SecuraPlane, a manufacturer of aircraft security devices, and Honeywell, and to the Sharaton El Conquistator Resort, the second largest convention site in the area. Steps to mitigate those threats have been put in place and working with area schools, student evacuation problems have been streamlined, said Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp.

The sense of patriotic fervor that existed in the aftermath of Sept. 11 has diminished somewhat since then, Sharp said. But so too have the anxieties accompanying that patriotic fervor.

That's the good side of a two-edged sword, Sharp said. People are again willing to fly and go about their normal business. But, too, the community at large must guard against a sense of complacency that could result in a total disregard of signs of trouble, he said.

Sharp said what he senses most is a desire of many to serve the homeland security effort in any way they can.

What has happened in Oro Valley, as elsewhere, is that because of an increased awareness, there have been improvements both in the community's ability to respond to crises and its inventoring of potential targets, said Mayor Paul Loomis.

"There is more of an understanding that the war on terrorism isn't going to be a seven-day type war, but rather an ongoing war, a war that's going to have various periods of intensity," Loomis said. "It's something we're going to have to deal with for a long time."

The challenge to Oro Valley's Citizen Corps Council, Loomis said, will be to establish the five groups within the council in such a way as to provide the best services to the community.

Both the Oro Valley and regional Citizen Corps councils are hard at work figuring out how they can bring that about.

The five groups that are a part of both councils are: the Volunteers in Police Services Program, Neighborhood Watch, a Medical Reserve Corps, Community Emergency Response Teams and a Terrorist Information and Prevention System.

The Community Emergency Response Teams would be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Medical Reserve Corps. The remaining programs would receive their funding from the Justice Department.

Under President Bush's 2003 budget, $37.7 billion would be set aside for the Office of Homeland Security, up from $19.5 billion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

That budget also includes $3.5 billion for enhancing homeland security response capabilities, $230 million for the five programs administered by the councils and $144 million in matching funds to support the formation and training of the Citizen Corps Councils.

Thus far, $19 million has been set aside nationally by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Community Emergency Response Team development and $6 million for Citizen Corps Council organizational efforts.

These were the only funds approved by Congress as part of Bush's 2002 supplemental appropriations proposals. Omitted from funding were the Medical Reserve Corps, Neighborhood Watch, Volunteers in Police Services and the Terrorist Information and Prevention System programs, said Michael Austin, head of the Arizona Division of Emergency Management.

In terms of the $6 million set aside for the Citizen Corps councils and Community Emergency Response Teams, state emergency services directors are seeking greater flexibility in distributing those monies, since the CERTS appropriation may be much more than needed, Austin said.

Separately, the Justice Department has allocated $6 million in grant money in Arizona for law enforcement equipment upgrades, the Department of Health and Human Services has distributed $19 million in grant money for anti-bioterrorism training and hospital response system improvements and about $1 million for anti-agroterrrorism efforts to protect the state's livestock, said Sandy Schneider, homeland security coordinator for the Arizona Governor's Office.

Neither the Oro Valley nor regional Citizens Corps Council has been holding its breath waiting for the federal money to trickle down.

In Oro Valley, the Town Council has already set aside $25,000 in seed money for future use by its Citizen Corps Council and Oro Valley police Officer Ferdinand Tolentino has written a Safety Awareness and Freedom Education program soon to be implemented in the Amphitheater School Districts' Wilson Middle School civics classes that has the potential to become a standard nationally.

On the regional level, the Citizens Corps Council for Homeland Security of Southern Arizona's Medical Reserve Corp has applied for a $50,000 a year, three-year grant to establish a Medical Reserve Corps program coordinated through the Volunteer Center of Tucson that would serve as a model for the country.

Another example of efforts being made to increase homeland security is a communitywide Disaster Drill to be conducted in Tucson Nov. 20 through 22 that will test the community's ability to deliver needed medicines and provide immunizations to large numbers of disaster victims.

Posters and brochures containing information on the proper agencies to contact to respond to and prevent terrorist activities are being circulated, businesses and residents are conducting security audits, schools are streamlining student roster lists and evacuation procedures and programs are being developed to restore economic vitality and reduce pessimism, all signs of the community's desire to keep its guard up, said local Citizen Corps leaders.

"People want to know that they can do something practical to help become better prepared," said Dennis Embry, president of the Paxis Institute, a Tucson research and policy development company and financial liaison to the regional Citizens Corps Council.

It's exactly what the regional and Oro Valley councils have in mind.

TUCSON TOURISM SLOWED BY ECONOMY, NOT FEAR

by Katie Clark

For weeks after Sept. 11, people were only allowed to travel on a very limited basis, and airport security was a nightmare as travelers found themselves waiting in lines for hours before finally departing to their desired locations.

Instead of going through the hassle of trying to fly, many simply canceled their vacations, leaving popular hotels, resorts and attractions nearly empty and deserted.

Tucson, unfortunately, did not escape the trend in the drop in tourism nationwide.

Jean McKnight, public relations director for the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, said hotel occupancy, which is the best way to measure the amount of tourism in Arizona, is down about 3.7 percent, which actually isn't too bad compared to other cities, she said, but still abnormal. McKnight did not have information about typical occupancy rates since the survey was done by a national company.

"Tucson is certainly not immune to (the decline in tourism), but we were able to adjust fairly quickly and change some of our marketing plans and we're not suffering as badly as other cities are," she said.

For example, hotel occupancies in Seattle and Tampa Bay, Fla. are both down more than 10 percent, in Denver they're down about 7 percent and in San Francisco, they're down nearly 15 percent.

"We're one of the few destinations we know that has fared OK in all of this," McKnight said. "The only ones who are doing well that we know of are Salt Lake City because of the Winter Olympics and San Antonio because their government funding increased by $2 million. They realized they needed extra help to get the word out, so their city funding increased. In contrast, ours went down."

Funding for the MTCVB comes from the bed tax that people pay when they stay overnight at a hotel. At the beginning of the fiscal year, the Tucson City Council votes to give a certain percentage of the bed tax to the MTCVB and the rest goes into the city's budget. McKnight said the council voted this year to instead set aside a certain dollar amount -- $2.25 million -- rather than a percentage in order to guarantee the same amount of funding that the MTCVB received last year.

McKnight said that, at the end of the year, this figure could actually be lower than what the MTCVB could have received if the city had voted to give it a percentage.

"We're trying to make the best with what we've got," McKnight said. "But we're actually not doing too bad. Tourism is down, though, and that ultimately means people's jobs."

McKnight said the current decline is probably due more to the unstable economy rather than fear of flying, as opposed to just after the attacks, when it was the opposite.

"It's interesting because the decline in business travel has actually outpaced the decline in individual travel," she said. "I don't think that individuals are afraid to travel. It's businesses and corporations that would pay for business meetings or conventions or conferences that are suffering the pinches of a poor economy. Businesses just don't have the money to send people across the country to a meeting like they used to."

That theory has proved true at the Sheraton El Conquistador Resort, 10000 N. Oracle Road, where business depends on mostly meetings and conventions that bring business people to the hotel.

John Fuller, the hotel's General Manager, said about 80 percent of the hotel's business comes from business events where attendees typically stay in the hotel.

He said the attacks were the final blow to an already dwindling economy, thanks to the demise of several dot-com and telecommunications companies that led to several cancellations in March last year.

Fuller said the Sheraton's hotel occupancy rates have dropped 10 to 12 percent from typical rates of 80 percent or more.

"It's more to do with the massive stock market decline and business people not traveling as much anymore ," he said. "But we are beginning to make a modest recovery."

At the same time, however, popular Tucson-area attractions are still taking hits as a result of the economy.

Old Tucson Studios, which is also in the middle of negotiations with Pima County to pay thousands of dollars of past-due rent, saw a drop of about 25,000 people from its predicted 350,000 for attendance in 2001. The studios operate on a calendar year instead of a fiscal year, as do most businesses.

Terry Pollock, Old Tucson Studios' vice president of strategic development, said it's hard to gauge whether Sept. 11 was a factor in the actual attendance.

"We try to avoid drawing conclusions that we can't support with facts, but it's pretty clear that those events had a devastating effect on tourism, especially attractions and the hospitality industry," he said.

The studios have been struggling since 1995 when a fire claimed several structures in the park, but Pollock predicts that October should be a very successful month, with popular events such as Nightfall, a Halloween event, bringing in revenue.

Joan Donnelley, executive director of Tohono Chul Park, said there was a drop in attendance at the park directly after the attacks, but that donations, which the park relies on for funding, did not go down.

She said the attendance might also have gone down as a result of construction that was going on at the park during that time.

"We're back on track now that construction is finished," she said.

Catalina State Park, on the other hand, saw a definite drop in attendance at the park last year, dropping to 126,000 people in fiscal year 2001 from 155,000 the year before.

"That's very abnormal," said Neil Donkersley, the park's manager. "People just didn't want to go anywhere."

Donkersley said the winter months traditionally bring several thousand out of state visitors to the park and last winter, many simply didn't feel like making a trip to Arizona.

Since the park reopened a few weeks ago after weeks of being closed due to legislative budget cuts, Donkersley said attendance has returned to typical rates.

In the meantime, McKnight said tourism in Arizona is slowly but surely returning to normal. She said the MTCVB is predicting hotel occupancy rates will return to normal by 2004.

McKnight said the MTCVB has changed its marketing strategy to target people who could drive to Arizona as well as people who want to relax.

"We're focusing on target markets," she said. "Spas became a really big deal last year because people were seeking peace and solitude. Tucson has two of the world's consistently ranked best spas - Miraval and Canyon Ranch and then all of our resorts have spas. We are working on promoting family vacations because Tucson is a great destination for families with kids of pretty much any age."

She added that the bureau is extending its summer special, offering discounts on hotels, restaurants and attractions of up to 25 percent off.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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