Wednesday, January 03, 2007


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today released scorecard assessments of interoperable communications capabilities in 75 urban and metropolitan areas nationwide. Interoperable communications involve policies, technology and training that enable law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services from multiple jurisdictions in a common community to effectively communicate within one hour of an incident.

“The 9/11 Commission identified interoperable communications as a major challenge and many communities listened by taking the sometimes difficult steps necessary to close communication gaps among first responders,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “Their experience proves that basic interoperability at the command level is achievable. We’re committed to making this a priority in every major urban area, and we’ll continue to push for closing these gaps by the end of 2008.”

The report listed Columbus in the top 6 with our neighbor Cleveland down there in the bottom 6.

TMC NEWS sat down with Lorain County Emergency Management Agency Director Tom Kelley to discuss the report and where Lorain County stands, communications wise, in the case of a disaster. Kelley, who is also the Lorain County Homeland Security Director, said that Lorain County has made communications a priority since before September 11. “We have always made communications a high priority but after September 11th with the money we have received we have really made great improvements.” The Department of Homeland Security distributes money to the state of Ohio then money is allocated to the various counties based on a formula including populations. Here is the breakdown of money that Lorain County has received since 2001.

2001 $61,610.61
2002 $167.905
2003 $186,100
2004 $1,027,243
2005 $636,367
2006 $209,398

The money received from Homeland Security can be used for the following 7 groups: Fire, Police, Health, EMS, Hospital, EMA and Public Works. A committee of 12, as required by the state of Ohio, meets to determine what the money will be used for. Kelley said one of the main reasons he thinks the process has worked so well in Lorain County is that at the first meeting the committee decided that each group would decide on an item or items for their overall group. “Instead of each Department saying we want this item or that item and fighting over the little things the different groups come back to the committee with items that will benefit the overall county.”

One of the items was the Lorain County Command and Communications truck. This vehicle, bought completely with Homeland Security funds, responds to large-scale incidents in Lorain County and acts as the command and communications center. One of the main features on this truck is where with a click of the mouse Kelley can link various radio frequencies together. “We can have all departments communicating on one radio channel at any given time. This includes departments from surrounding counties such as Huron, Erie, Ashland and Medina County. We are working with western Cuyahoga counties to get them on our system as well.”

With the money decreasing from the DHS Lorain County is now looking at hiring a communications consultant to come in and look at the county’s current system. “The idea is to see from an independent consultant how we could use the equipment and systems that we already have to make improvements.”

Kelley said that any community can buy the best communication equipment but if you don’t have cooperation from the various agencies it will never work. “We have been very fortunate where all of the agencies have worked very well together, even giving up portions of their money to other agencies who fall short on items that they are looking at buying. I think if it weren’t for the collaborative effort of all departments we would not be as far ahead in communications that we are today. So as far as communications is concerned, we're making it a priority, and have made great advances ensuring that we can all talk to each other during a crisis.”

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