Arizona hopes to land a $7.4 million federal Homeland Security grant, a portion of which could help fund a state system that will allow multiple police and fire agencies to communicate during emergencies.
Chuck Blanchard, Arizona’s Homeland Security director, said Tuesday at least $2 million of the grant, if it is awarded, should go for the system. Blanchard, speaking to members of the Arizona Public Safety Communications Committee, said the money would only provide a short-term solution. The group is an ad hoc committee organized by the Arizona Department of Public Safety
As of now, police and fire agencies within the same community can rarely speak to each other on their radios, let alone speak to other agencies, said DPS Lt. Col. David Felix.
While an ad hoc committee was formed three years ago to look at a long-term solution to the problem, the immediate need for a short-term solution was drilled home during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and after last year’s Rodeo-Chediski fires, Felix said.
With a statewide radio system ranging from $60 million to $300 million, the state can’t take care of the problem now, Felix said. However, federal grants may make it possible to buy equipment that can patch the different radio systems together.
Blanchard told the communications committee Tuesday the state has until April 22 to submit an grant application to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Should the federal government award the grant, the state might be able to follow Colorado’s example and purchase technology that can bridge the gap between the different agencies, Blanchard said. Colorado received a $3 million grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy to address its problems.
"Why don’t we, off the top, devote some portion of our grant" to those technologies? Blanchard asked.
DPS Director Dennis Garrett told Blanchard he believes many members of the Arizona Sheriff’s Association are already on board with that idea.
Frank Navarrette, director of the Division of Emergency Management, said some officials he has spoken with favor spending the entire grant on the communication problem.
Once the grant is awarded, every effort will be made to convince each of the counties to come to an accord, Navarrette said.
A report recommending the best three ways to implement a statewide communications system is expected by April 2004.