County officials urge ongoing intergovernmental cooperation

Montgomery County, Pa.

Large counties are spending millions out of their own budgets on homeland security initiatives, but cooperation across all levels of government is necessary if anyone is to successfully prepare and respond, officials said this week.

Executives in the Montgomery counties of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio have spent anywhere from $2 million to more than $100 million out of their own budgets on public safety communications and incident management systems. All of that money must be coordinated with federal and local funds, and especially with planning, said Rob Gunter, director of emergency management for the Ohio county.

"All money spent should be toward a single overarching strategy," he said Nov. 30 at FCW Events' Homeland Security and Information Assurance Conference and Exhibition 2004. "Money spent at the local and state level should have some coherent connection to the federal resources, services and strategies, and right now I don't think we have that."

While every jurisdiction knows what they are buying, few know how what they are buying affects the strategies and actions of the jurisdictions they interact with now or might interact with in the future, Gunter said. But there have been significant improvements on this cooperation in the last two years, he said.

"They've begun to come out of their boxes," he said.

In Pennsylvania, the county spent about $17 million on a new 800 MHz wireless communications system, but officials have reached out to work with Philadelphia to test and implement the system, said Jack Pond, chief information officer for Montgomery County, which is on the city's northwest border.

Pond also helped form a regional area task force bringing together the policy and technology leaders from five counties. That task force is focused on developing strategies for connecting police, fire, medical and education communities within an across jurisdictions, he said.

Maryland's Montgomery County, as part of the National Capital Region that Congress formed under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, is involved in multi-jurisdictional cooperation on a daily basis.

Not all of the cooperation is simply across jurisdictions, said Alisoun Moore, CIO for the county. Often it is about working with other disciplines, as well as other jurisdictions, to connect and enhance existing systems. The processes "have been honed over years and our job is to make it easier using the technology, and to step out of that boundary is a recipe for disaster," she said.

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