Homeland Security grant buys hovercraft
By Meagan Ingerson
September 28, 2007
Thousands of dollars in Homeland Security Department
grant money given to Marion and Hamilton counties
isn't going to airport surveillance or special ops
Instead, it is paying for a hovercraft.
The six-passenger craft bought by emergency management
officials from the two counties will be used in
water, ice and snow rescues, according to Debbie
Fletcher, spokeswoman for Marion County Emergency
The craft's $59,600 cost includes a towing trailer and
a pilot training course. It was purchased July 26
from the Terre Haute-based company Neoteric
The purchase was paid for by a 2005 grant from the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security to the
Indianapolis Urban Area Security Initiative, which
includes Marion and Hamilton counties, Fletcher said.
The initiative is part of a national homeland
security program designed to protect cities with
populations of more than 100,000.
The federal government has given states billions to
help them prepare for emergencies. Some local
government purchases have been criticized because
they didn't directly address possible terrorist
While he did not criticize the hovercraft purchase,
state Sen. Thomas J. Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, said
purchases made with Department of Homeland Security
grants must be used primarily for counterterrorism
purposes. Wyss chairs the state Senate committee that
oversees homeland security spending.
"Homeland Security money is not just for taking care
of your, quote, everyday needs that you have for
public safety," he said. "First and foremost, it's
there for protection and prevention in
The hovercraft could also be used for security
purposes such as collecting evidence or surveillance,
"(A purchase) has to have a homeland security basis,
but the point of homeland security is (to protect
against) all hazards," she said, adding that this
includes natural disasters and other emergencies.
The technology will be especially helpful in
emergencies at area dams, where rescue boats often
get stuck in the current, Fletcher said.
"People get caught and tumble over the dam area . . .
and (rescue) watercraft get stuck," she said. "The
hovercraft sits above that so that it doesn't get
caught in the water flow."
Wyss, who serves as the head of the Senate's Homeland
Security Committee, said he was aware of the
hovercraft purchase but had not seen the specific
proposal or how it was linked to homeland
"Apparently, Indianapolis must have had a good enough
reason for the U.S. government to authorize it," he
said, adding, "I'm hopeful there's going to be good
utilization of it."
The urban security initiative, which is made up of
representatives from police and fire departments
in Marion and Hamilton counties, decided a hovercraft
was necessary for local water rescues, Fletcher
Marion County performs about 150 water rescue runs a
year, she said. Boats are deployed in about 60 of
those cases, she said, with diver teams making up the
remainder of the runs.
"One of the gaps that they found was for swift-water
rescues and ice rescues and some of the low-head dams
that we have, we don't have a piece of equipment that
does very well," she said.
Fletcher cited a case in September 2003 at Fall Creek,
when a woman died after her car was trapped in
floodwaters. Fletcher said rescue workers could not
reach the victim because the current was too
County government inspectors will look at the craft
Oct. 5, Fletcher said, with training set to start at
Neoteric soon after. The initiative plans to keep two
trained pilots for the craft on call at any given
Neoteric President Chris Fitzgerald said hovercrafts
are good alternatives to helicopters and boats in
flood rescues, which he said can be very
Vigo County emergency crews own a smaller,
two-passenger hovercraft from Neoteric, said Vigo
County Emergency Management Director Dorene Hojnicki.
The craft was donated to the department in 1991.
Hojnicki said the department has found the craft to be
"not all that useful." The model is too small to be
practical in rescue efforts. The county does not
perform many water rescues, and the hovercraft
equipment is expensive to maintain, she said.
"(Hovercrafts) definitely have a place. We just found
here locally that we don't really use it," she
In the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks, under pressure to get money to local
agencies as soon as possible, the state
distributed about $22 million in Department of
Homeland Security money to local agencies without
supervising spending. The state then asked local
governments in 2005 to produce receipts for
purchases or return the funds.