IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Your terror dollars: Are they working for you?

NBC News correspondent Pete Williams reports that some first responders say money allocation is a big problem.

Since 9/11, America's first responders — local police and fire fighters — have struggled to maintain stricter security in a time of tighter budgets.  But many of them complain that the way the government gives out the money is a big part of the problem. NBC News correspondent Pete Williams reports.

With the nation's busiest seaport, an airport already targeted once by terrorists, and a high-profile hometown industry Los Angeles has scrambled since 9/11 to strengthen security and better equip first responders to save lives.

The cost so far has been $130 million. But L.A. has received just $80 million in federal Homeland Security money.

“Big cities like his, with so many priorities to address, aren't getting money quickly enough or in the amounts needed to do everything that's demanded of the nation's largest metropolitan areas,” says Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn.

City officials showed NBC News what they need – from bomb handling robots to bioweapon detectors.

Some city officials say they were under equipped even before 9/11. And now with all the new demands, and local budget cuts, they're further in the hole.

After 9/11, Congress declared that nearly half the security money should be spread among states equally.

But Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, says that formula put too much money in the wrong places – leaving big cities vulnerable. "It has a lot more in common with the formulas that we use for paving roads than it does with national security," he says.

While New York used its share to respond to repeated terror warnings, a rural Washington state county bought a decontamination unit and put it in a warehouse – no HAZMAT team to use it.

Wyoming's share, tiny compared to big states, turned out to be highest per capita.

The Homeland Security Department is now channeling more money directly to big cities.

But the 9/11 Commission says Congress must do more and base federal aid strictly on an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities. Even so, sparsely populated areas say every state has its own vulnerabilities:

"If you take the protection and put it only in 100 areas in the United States, I think you leave the rest of the country vulnerable," says Larry Naake of The National Association of Counties.

So far, Congress is resisting a change that some states say would be unwise but that big cities insist would make America safer.