Feds give boost to first responders

September 27, 2010 

There’s nothing like a cool $154.6 million to get Los Angeles all fired up.

Especially when the money–the largest federal grant of its kind–will be used to help establish a new emergency-communications network linking all of the L.A. region’s police, fire and emergency workers.

The award was announced Monday by a jubilant group of elected officials whose enthusiasm survived the broiling 100+ degree heat outside the county Hall of Administration.

“Today’s news is huge – a big down payment on a safer future,” said Rep. Jane Harman, of Venice, who helped secure the funding as a senior member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.  “Our ability to prevent, protect and respond to natural and man-made disasters will be dramatically enhanced.”

The grant will help pay to design and build the new communications network, called the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS for short). The wireless network aims to become a seamless disaster-communications system linking all of the region’s 34,000 first responders and disaster personnel, from police and fire to health-care workers. It will also enhance communication with state and federal agencies.

Failures to communicate among multiple agencies have plagued responses to emergencies ranging from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina to Southern California’s large-scale natural disasters.

“It is critical that all of the agencies that respond to disasters, whether they are fires or floods, are able to communicate with each other,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

He and other officials praised Harman for understanding the network’s importance, and, as he said, “for doing something about it.”

“I want to thank you for your yeoman’s effort,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said to Harman.

The new system will be built over the next 3 to 5 years at an estimated cost of $500-$700 million.

LA-RICS was created in 2009 as a Joint Powers Authority by the county and city of Los Angeles and 81 other local cities. The new voice and data radio system, to be linked with fiber-optic cable, microwave antennae and other connections, would replace the current patchwork that often blocks communication between law enforcement and fire agencies.

In August, the Board of Supervisors approved a first year LA-RICS budget of $17.76 million.

Funds from the federal grant came through the federal Commerce Department’s Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program, with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Sheriff Lee Baca noted that the network, when completed, will cover 1,000 frequencies and 500 channels. “This is unprecedented throughout the entire United States,” he said.

Posted 9/27/10

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