Urban Area Perspective - Salt Lake City

By Joseph Straw
Alicia D. Johnson is executive director of the Salt Lake Urban Area, where she oversees the region’s administration of U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant program. She has held the position for the past two years, managing annual grant funds worth more than $7 million, including investment justifications and projects focused on emergency management, regional training, information sharing, external affairs, and interoperable communications. Previously, she served as an emergency management specialist in public information for Salt Lake County Emergency Management’s Unified Fire Authority, as public information officer for the Pueblo County (Colorado) Department of Emergency Management, and as a public relations consultant for Jewett Drug, Inc. Johnson earned a Bachelor’s degree in communication and political science from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado.

What are the responsibilities of your office?

 As the Salt Lake Urban Area, designated under DHS’s UASI program, we are a federally-funded grant program, so our mission is determined by the grant program itself. We work primarily on regional preparedness and terrorism prevention. Currently our region is greater Salt Lake County, so it’s all of the jurisdictions that fall within the County boundaries. In terms of our office’s responsibilities, we manage the UASI grant funds, and then we also oversee and assist nine subject-matter expert committees on regional projects and program development.


What assets and make your region unique?

One of our major assets and is the world headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints here in Salt Lake City. That’s an asset in terms of its community value and humanitarian work, and also a potential target. Salt Lake County is located on the Wasatch Fault line, so of course earthquakes are a major concern here, and we work to prepare the community for a potential earthquake. Living in the Rocky Mountains we are of course familiar with all kinds of weather threats, in particular snow emergencies and spring-runoff flooding. Those things are all major concerns here.


How does the region manage planning and administration of federal grant funds?

We have a board of trustees that is called the Urban Area Working Group. It oversees the implementation of the UASI funds. The Working Group works directly with the nine subject-matter-expert committees. The committees are tasked with addressing issues including law enforcement and terrorism prevention, community preparedness, external affairs, operations, emergency management, training and exercises, medical operations, critical infrastructure, and communications, which primarily focuses on interoperability. Additionally, we have an advisory group that’s made up of area mayors, sheriffs, and police and fire chiefs that focuses on guidance and on aligning UASI spending with sister grant programs like the broader Homeland Security Grant Program. Our goal is a high return on investment for regional preparedness, and we target our strategies to work with other grant programs and to work with strategies within our partner jurisdictions.


What is the greatest challenge your region confronts in its mission?

I think our biggest challenge as an urban area composed of various jurisdictions and agencies is the ability to respond and communicate as a regional team. The Salt Lake Valley is like any metro area. It has political boundaries, but cities that begin and end without any practical social demarcation, and so citizens work in one city but live in another, they have children who might go to school in yet another city. So the ability to respond in a unified manner—because that’s what our citizens expect of us—is often a challenge.


What do you consider the region’s greatest success?

There are so many successes here. One I’d cite specifically is our development and implementation of a successful regional strategy. Over the last three years since the inception of the UASI program here we’ve been able to develop and implement a strategy regionally, get communities on board, and have them support programs that we’re working on. The 2002 Winter Olympics were a part of that. The games were really a foundational aspect of the importance of working together as a team, and of the importance of establishing that kind of strategy as a regional group.


Is fiscal sustainability a challenge? If so, how is your region coping?

As a federally funded grant program, sustainability is a massive concern. It’s a very real concern for me and for the committees that are managing projects and programs. We continue to look at the long-term sustainability and feasibility of programs. The Urban Area Working Group has determined to fund programs that are sustainable, that either can be absorbed by or funded through additional grant programs, and something that we’re really working toward as a group is leveraging all funding sources appropriately. But it definitely overshadows what we do.

How would you characterize your relationship with the region’s federal partners? What, if anything, would you change?
We have a really great relationship with our federal partners and our grant program managers back in Washington, D.C. They are very easy to work with, very easy when we have questions or comments. So there’s not really anything I would change specifically about our personal relationship with them. They make it easy to do business and to do it well.



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