By CHRIS EBERHART
Westchester County will receive a $6 million Interoperable Communications Grant from the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to bolster first responders’ communications systems.
Britta Vander Linden, spokesperson for Republican County Executive Rob Astorino, said the grant will provide police, fire, EMS and emergency management officials with additional systems capabilities that will improve interoperability radio systems, which will allow for more reliable coordination among municipalities and between municipalities and state and federal responders.
The radio systems will create additional communication lines on the state and national radio channels that utilize “microwave technology,” which creates links via energy waves between radio towers instead of utilizing power lines, which can be damaged during storms.
According to Vander Linden, historically speaking, communication is the most commonly identified failure during an emergency or disaster going back to tragedies like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. She said the county doesn’t have specific examples of communication issues, but it is always looking for ways to improve during an emergency situation.
John Cullen, county emergency services commissioner, echoed Vander Linden’s statement and said past disasters across the region demonstrated the need for improved communications.
“We have learned a number of lessons over the past few years while coordinating responses during past severe weather events,” Cullen said. “Having redundant and reliable systems in place before a disaster strikes will better help manage emergency responses and the recovery efforts that follow.”
The $6 million is part of $80 million in grants—$75 million of which is coming as part of a state grant and $5 million of which is coming from a federal grant—that were distributed through the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to several counties—including West-chester—within the state.
Westchester received the eig-hth-largest amount of funding, but the difference between Westchester and the counties that received the most funding is less than $10,000.
Broome, Cattaraugus, Jeffe-rson, Lewis, Oswego and Sen-eca counties also received exactly $6 million.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Dem-ocrat, said, “New York has seen some of the nation’s worst disasters in recent years, and this $80 million will go a long way to strengthening the network of locally-based emergency response infrastructure across our state. First responders are often the initial line of defense in any critical incident and supporting their communication abilities is an important way for the state to help safeguard our communities during a crisis.”
Linden said, while there was nothing wrong with the communication systems that are currently in use, trees near power lines are always a threat to disrupt power during a severe storm, but the new systems, because they don’t require power lines to operate, will still be able to relay messages during a disaster.
The county executive said the grant is an important one that will help first responders during a time of crisis.
“The county’s Emergency Ser-vices Department worked hard to secure this competitive grant funding and will now be able to further support our local municipalities and emergency responders with response and recovery efforts during the time of an emergency,” Astorino said.
In addition to the $6 million grant from the state, the county received roughly $321,000 from the federal government; $261,000 of which will be used to improve its bomb squad’s ability to better detect and respond to improvised explosive devices and $60,000 will be used to develop or sustain a canine team to sniff out bombs.