FEMA grant goes toward communication upgrades

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mississippi’s emergency communications system is expected to see some major upgrades thanks to a $100 million grant approved by Congress.
The Department of Homeland Security released the funds to allow Mississippi to move forward with an interoperable communications system to improve its responses to emergencies and disasters. The grant comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds allotted to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
The resources will be used to advance the Mississippi Wireless Integrated Network, which the state identified as one of its highest priority requirements to prepare for future disasters and emergencies.
Director of Lee County Emergency 911 Paul Harkins said the funds should benefit communications statewide. Lee County E911 started improving its communications system in 2009 after receiving a $200,000 grant. The money was used to buy a radio system that allows the agency to communicate with state agencies.
“I’m glad to see the money being put up to improve communications across the state,” said Harkins. “It’s important that everyone is able to communicate with one another when we need to the most, like during a catastrophic event like Katrina.”
The recently released funds bring the total amount of redirected HMGP funding for MSWIN to $140 million. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has been instrumental in securing congressional support for the project.
“Hurricane Katrina taught us valuable lessons, one of the most important being the need for emergency responders to be able to communicate with each other,” said Cochran in a released statement. “The interoperable system developed by the state of Mississippi is intended to give emergency and rescue personnel the ability to better coordinate recovery efforts.”
Harkins said because disasters like Hurricane Katrina don’t occur often, the equipment will potentially sit unused for the majority of the time and that’s something he hopes can be fixed.
“It could be a decade before an event happens that causes us to have to use the equipment,” said Harkins. “I’d like to see local agencies have the ability to use the equipment in day-to-day operations if needed. The ability to be able to use it efficiently when the time comes is very important and being able to work with it more often will help with that.”