KINGMAN There is no shortage of planning and thinking going on about the security of Mohave County, even as money begins to dwindle.
Homeland Security funds are distributed each year to each state since Sept. 11, 2001. According to Pete Byers, Chairman of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, the money then trickles down to the Regional Advisory Committees, which make the ultimate decision of who will get funds for emergency agencies.
According to Mike Browning, assistant emergency management coordinator, 9/11 was a wake-up call for everyone. It was the moment of opportunity for all governments to look at regionwide planning, he said.
The first year that counties really began to receive Homeland Security funds was in 2002, Browning said. At that time, he said counties were notified by the state that they had a certain amount of money. The counties would pay for equipment and then submit receipts to the state for approval and reimbursement. If the state decided the item was not an appropriate item, the county would need to cover the cost of the item.
In 2003, he said, things went a little smoother. The state, at that time, decided to create a standardization of equipment, which would enable different agencies to have like equipment. Chemical gear was purchased that year that protected first-responders from an outbreak of a hazardous chemical event as well as the aftermath of a weapons of mass destruction event.
In 2004, a new system was created, Browning said. The state decided to make monies for homeland security regional with the creation of Regional Advisory Committees.
Byers said the money currently flows through the RACs, which have to approve items before they are sent for review at the state level.
Byers said the RAC takes in applications from the different law enforcement and emergency personal in the region. They assess the requests to see if they meet the criteria the local RAC has set. For this region, the Western RAC (which Byers said encompasses Mohave, La Paz and Yavapai counties) has decided to focus on radio interoperability as their prime goal.
According to Byron Steward, emergency management coordinator, radio interoperability allows different response agencies to be able to communicate with each other even if their radios operate on different bandwidths.
"If you have agencies that respond to a particular event that have different bandwidths in their radios, then they can't talk to each other," Steward said. "That's what happened at 9/11. One of the problems they had when the twin towers were hit was the law enforcement agencies couldn't talk to one another because they were on different bandwidths. So, one of the biggest priorities that came out of that was to try to get equipment out there that had the capability of patching the various bandwidths."
This year, Steward said the region was allocated approximately $720,000 through the State Homeland Security Grant Program. This year, he said, it looked as if the Western RAC decided once again to focus on radio interoperability. Many agencies, Steward said, applied for radio interoperability equipment and it looked as if most were going to be funded.
Much of the money received by the county over the last two or three years, Steward said, has gone toward setting up fixed interoperability sites that cover the main population areas within the county. In the future, they are looking at expanding the interoperability to cover more of the county, he said.
Byers said about $500,000 more was allocated to the region for the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program. According to Steward, this money can only be used for law enforcement agencies, and the RACs cannot make recommendations as to the projects that get funded.
"I think that this is a good way to do the money," Byers said. "It is a good way to handle it, but it does have its problems because you're pulling out of the central amount of money that the whole state gets and you're trying to allocate it to the rural communities, too. It's being pulled from the central area where all the people mostly are, and they want more because their money is not going around so well either. The state got about $120 million this year, but by the time it works its way to the rural areas, it's only about $1 million."
One of the pieces of equipment which Homeland Security funds were able to supply the region with is the TOAD 1 Communication vehicle. According to Byers, one TOAD is assigned to each region. Mohave County volunteered to take the first one, and therefore, took on the responsibility of the vehicle for this region.
Browning, who leads the mostly volunteer crew that mans the TOAD 1, said they take the vehicle out once a month to train. Other than that, it is used on most of the bigger fires during the summer and has been called out to about eight major events. These events include the flooding of the Beaver Dam.
The TOAD vehicles, Browning said, are mobile instruments that facilitate the radio interoperability on-site. Equipment was installed into the TOAD that allows all of the different bandwidths to be patched together.
It also serves as a mobile command center, he said. With satellite television, a satellite Internet service, multiple laptop computers, satellite telephone system and a satellite weather system, it is equipped to handle just about any emergency, Browning said. The team has hazardous event suits and fire protection equipment. All of the volunteers are thoroughly trained on all of the equipment and are continuously trained.
Browning said the TOAD 1, while designed with a more urban setting in mind, is used the most in Mohave County than any other county in Arizona. When needed in other counties, Browning often receives a call for usage assistance.
The Mohave County Emergency Management Division, as well as the Western RAC, Board of Supervisors and all of the emergency response agencies within the county, continue to strive to serve the county better.
They are constantly updating, Steward said, to be able to keep the county as safe as possible while being prepared for unexpected events.