Orlando-area agencies emphasize need for anti-terrorism funding

3 nonprofits will also receive funding to increase security

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - Orlando will receive $3.25 million in funding to support anti-terrorism as part of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security program to protect urban areas from threats.

Following the Pulse shooting on June 12, 2016, Florida lawmakers and law enforcement officials requested Orlando be included in the Urban Areas Security Initiative program. The major tourist destination did not receive UASI funding from 2015 to 2017. 

Former Orlando police Chief, now Orange County Sheriff John Mina said the funding will help cover training and equipment for police, deputies, fire and emergency management staff.

Last year those efforts paid off and Orlando received $1.5 million.

Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto and Val Demings announced Friday that in 2020 Orlando qualified $3.25 million to help fund tools to fight terrorism.

On Monday at the Orlando Police Department, Soto and Orlando police Chief Orlando Rolon discussed how the funding will be used to protect Central Florida communities.

Soto said that at any given time, a million tourists are being welcomed into the area, and it's important to have the resources necessary to keep them safe, in addition to the residents who call Central Florida home.

"We're now getting Washington to finally recognize it's not just about the numbers of whether we're a city of 2.5 million. We are an international city that welcomes in millions of people each year and that is added considerations that are now being utilized in allowing us to be eligible for these funds," Soto said.

Rolon said it's not just outside threats officials are concerned about. Officials are putting emphasis on fighting threats of domestic terrorism.

The chief said it's important for Central Floridians to recognize that, in today's world, anywhere could be targeted.

"Our entire region -- not just the city of Orlando -- but the Central Florida region, all the way from Port Canaveral all the way to our area that we so well know here, our theme parks. Everywhere is important for people to be mindful of the fact that any place can potentially become a target," Rolon said. "Unfortunately, that's the world we live in. So now, more than ever, our citizens must understand that if they see something suspicious, they have to report that. They have to make it known, because the days of wondering whether it should be reported or not -- those days are gone."

He asked residents to report anything that seems out of the ordinary and assured them that authorities are training to respond the best they can to the unthinkable.

Three Orlando-area nonprofits were also awarded nonprofit security grants from the Department of Homeland Security totaling $290,000. According to a news release, the organizations predominantly serve the Jewish community.

"Orlando is one of our nation's most popular destinations and home to a vibrant community that has endured tragedy and loss. Residents and visitors alike should know the federal government is providing the support needed to protect them from terrorist threats," Murphy said in a news release. "Their safety must be our number one priority. I was proud to fight alongside my colleagues to secure this funding so local law enforcement agencies and non-profits have the tools they need to fight terrorism in our community."

Officials can use the funding to buy homeland security equipment, conduct training exercises, train and pay first responders and enhance security in order to protect high-profile locations, including stadiums, public transit and theme parks.

Soto also said officials are working on two other grants related to safe schools and community policing.

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