Remember when getting there was half the fun? Not anymore.

On my way back to Chicago from New Orleans after attending the American Traffic Safety Services Association's annual convention, I was forced to make a contribution to the airport gods. It was an unopened bottle of "Taste the Evil" hot sauce, confiscated because it was?and I am not making this up?one-quarter of an ounce over the allowed limit for liquid carry-on items.

Having already extricated my laptop from my briefcase; removed my shoes and jacket; jammed my toiletries into a 1-quart zip-top bag and thoughtfully packed it for easy removal and examination by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees; and walked in my socks over unspeakably filthy floors, I stared dumbly at the hapless young man holding one of the world's best gag gifts. I was appalled that this perfectly fine, brand new item would be thrown away.

What a waste.

I'm not criticizing the men and women who support themselves and their families by participating in this divine comedy. And let's assume that the rules regarding what can and cannot be carried on to an airplane have averted nasty incidents.

Still, so much of the nation's counterterrorism resources are misdirected. If someone really wanted to disrupt the American way of life, they'd take out a bridge! A road! Mass transit! Poison some drinking water! Release untreated sewage! Thanks to aggressive lobbying, states distribute most homeland security funds to fire andpolice operations. Like police and fire, public works departments could lobby state legislatures for a bigger piece of a shrinking pie.

"There is funding available if you're willing to fight for it," says Dan Lynch, a water andwastewater utility manager for a Wisconsin community of 63,000, and one of our sources for the article beginning on page 30.

But unlike police and fire departments, public works departments spend virtually all of their time managing the things that keep U.S. citizens safe every day. When you're consumed by the effort of justifying a minor rate increase to keep a major community asset up and running, who has the time and energy to mobilize other public infrastructure managers to take a massive public relations campaign to the state capital? Because that's what it will take to teach key decision-makers about your role in making the nation safe for democracy.

If you have undertaken such an effort, please tell me what you did and how you did it by e-mailing me at sjohnston@hanleywood.com. I'd love to hear what you've accomplished.