Cities, states spend millions on wireless

Interoperable wireless communications for general emergency response and for homeland security is becoming a top priority for government officials across the country, with cities and states proposing to spend millions on the technology.

In her state of the state address last week, Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner highlighted the importance of the radio systems used by emergency workers. She proposed $12 million to upgrade the state's 800 MHz system, "to broaden its coverage and effectiveness for our police, fire, medical, public health, environmental and other responders."

Delaware has had its system for several years, but officials within the emergency response community have been discussing how "to take the 800-megahertz system to the next level," Minner said in her speech.

Detroit officials are also looking at an 800 MHz system for the city and the surrounding area, according to Shelby Slater, director of homeland security for the city. He was speaking last week before the Task Force of Borders and Cities at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C.

City officials expect to spend more than $100 million on the system, which will be powerful enough to use across the region and will also be interoperable with the system set up by Michigan for state emergency personnel, he said.

Spending that much money on a new system isn't always an option, however. Arizona decided to instead equip its first responders with a pod communications system, which links existing systems through portable stations, Frank Navarette, director of Arizona's homeland security, told the task force. This solution is much less expensive than implementing a new communications infrastructure across the state -- and inexpensive but functional is very important right now, he said.

Because of budget pressures, Congress is encouraging states, cities and regions to go this direction with their communications technology, Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), ranking member on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, said at the task force meeting. Some of that encouragement will come in the guidelines for homeland security-related grants, he said.

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