Monday, May 11, 2009

Interoperability for Missouri’s First Responders

By Dan Brown
District 149 State Representative

On September 11th in New York, the lack of a digital emergency communication system (interoperability) cost 343 firemen their lives. Twenty minutes before the second building collapsed, a police helicopter sent a warning over the police communication system. Since the two systems don’t intercept, firefighters were not warned and a horrendous tragedy occurred that may have otherwise been prevented.

In contrast, Minnesota has an interoperability system in place. When the 35W Bridge collapsed, emergency responders were able to communicate effectively, putting everyone on the same wavelength. David Berrisford of Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management was quoted as saying, “It worked wonderfully.”

The current communication system in Missouri is over 50 years old. It prevents our emergency personnel from the ability to communicate with local police, firefighters, highway patrol, and paramedics. If we were to face a serious emergency such as New York or Minnesota, we may not have the ability to keep our citizens from danger. In 2008, Governor Blunt signed a contract to implement state-wide interoperability. However, in January, Governor Nixon put the contract on hold.

This week, the House voted to overturn the Governor’s decision and fund interoperability for our state. House Bill 22, which specifies how the state will spend part of the federal stimulus funds, designates over $112 million for a new statewide emergency radio communications system. This will replace the old system and allow first responders to communicate easier and on a broader scale.

This new system is important to the safety of all Missourians. Over the past few years, we have experienced several natural disasters, such as ice storms, tornados and flooding. In addition, we have police, fire fighters and paramedics risking their lives on a daily basis to help fellow Missourians. The least we can do is provide them with the tools they need to communicate effectively and save lives.

House Bill 22 also uses federal stimulus funds for a new cancer hospital at the University of Missouri-Columbia. This bill will use 31 million dollars to replace the old Ellis Fischel Hospital. Regardless of your views on federal stimulus money we have found that if not used in Missouri, it will go to other states and we (my constituents) are still going to be taxed for the full amount. With that in mind I want to use the money to benefit the citizens of Missouri, not pet projects of various politicians.

Among other sizable items in House Bill 22 it will provide $18 million for repairs at community colleges, $9.3 million for Bellefontaine Habilitation Center for developmentally disabled in Saint Louis, and about $2.5 million for a new roof and sprinkler system at the Veteran’s Home in St. James. These are a few examples of one time expenses that will sustain and generate new jobs.

As always, it is a pleasure to serve you in the House of Representatives. Please do not hesitate to contact me either by calling 573-751-5713 or by email at dan.brown@house.mo.gov

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