LAS VEGAS – Federal officials have awarded more money under an anti-terrorism grant to tourist hotspots such as Las Vegas and Orlando after deciding to include the number of visitors and high-profile special events when calculating the risk of an attack.
The Urban Area Security Initiative awards money by ranking cities' vulnerability based on population, valuable targets and other factors.
Officials in Florida and Nevada have argued that Las Vegas and Orlando should rank higher on the list. An Orlando nightclub was the scene of a mass shooting in 2016, and last year a gunman opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Federal officials sent letters to Florida and Nevada officials in April and May letting them know about the change in assessing risk.
"If funding is available and we have a disproportionate risk, then we deserve to get some of the funding that our taxpayers send to Washington, D.C.," said Jerry Demings, the sheriff of Orange County, Florida, which includes Orlando.
More than 42 million people visited Las Vegas in 2017, while Orlando saw a record 72 million tourists last year at its theme parks and other attractions, making it the most visited destination in the U.S.
Las Vegas is receiving $5 million from the program this year, nearly double what it got last year. Orlando will get a $1.5 million grant — its first award in five years.
New York City, which tops the list created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, saw a slight increase and will get about $179 million.
Federal officials haven't explained why the change was made after years of requests from politicians or said whether the large-scale attacks in Orlando and Las Vegas played a role.
Lesley Fulop, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement the agency's grant programs are flexible and are "used to help address evolving threats."
Nevada Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, whose district includes the Las Vegas Strip, both pushed for changes to the program months before the Oct. 1 shooting on the Las Vegas Strip.
After the attack, Heller's office said he spoke to President Donald Trump about the program.
Still, Trump proposed slashing the program in his budget request earlier this year. It marked the third straight White House to say cuts were justified because some grant money sat unused.
Members of Congress instead poured another $25 million into the program, raising funding to $630 million.
The central Florida region plans to use the grant money for its counter-terrorism center, tactical first aid kits for mass casualties and bomb squad equipment.
The Las Vegas money is earmarked for bomb squads, hazardous material teams and a counter terrorism center.