Janesville54°

County spent $1.4 million on homeland security

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ANN MARIE AMES
December 2, 2007

Not long ago, Rock County was flooded with cash meant to fight terrorists.


Now the county’s share of federal homeland security money has all but dried up.


Between 2003 and 2005, the federal government pumped millions into local emergency response teams and law enforcement agencies.


The money filled “voids” in the county, Janesville Police Deputy Chief Dave Moore said. But responders always could find ways to spend more.


“When you’re working with limited tax dollars, there are always really valid things that we need,” Moore said.


The state is holding on to a recent $15 million grant, which could explain the decrease in local money, said Phil Boutwell, assistant to the Rock County administrator. That’s not a popular decision among some local first responders, such as Dave Sleeter, director of the county 911 communications center.


Wisconsin got $15 million to improve communications between departments. The state will buy equipment for a trunking system to let radio users talk between departments and get more out of radio frequencies, Sleeter said.


That’s helpful for Wisconsin’s law enforcement or emergency responders, because those departments have access to the state-owned trunking system. So do some big communities such as Milwaukee and Dane County.


But it doesn’t do a thing for Rock County, Sleeter said. The state could provide a link, but the equipment needed to use it would be too expensive, he said.


If Sleeter could use some of that money, he would buy more radios for workers in the county’s public works or transportation departments. Those people are likely respond in an emergency, and at this point they don’t have the equipment to talk to police and firefighters, Sleeter said.


Where did the money go?

Rock County has spent $1.4 million in homeland security grants since 2003.


The money peaked at $600,000 in 2003. In 2004, Rock County spent $330,000 and another $395,000 in 2005.


But in 2007, the cash dropped to $32,000, which was spent on a simulated terrorist attack at Beloit College this fall.


The dip in funds is to be expected, said Shirley Connors, Rock County’s emergency management director.


“This money wasn’t supposed to be around forever,” Connors said. “Now it’s up to the individual county or city.”


Connors’ office was responsible for routing the federal dollars that came to Rock County through the Wisconsin Department of Justice Assistance.


One of the big buys was an incident command trailer that’s maintained by the sheriff’s department and available to every community. That fits with the spirit of cooperation behind homeland security, said Evansville Police Lt. Art Phillips.


“It’s not just Evansville’s or Janesville’s,” Phillips said. “It’s for all of us in Rock County. I don’t even care if Platteville called us because they had a disaster or a tornado. If they need stuff and we’ve got it, we’ll get it there.”


The county didn’t just buy equipment. Grants covered training for emergency responders and the overtime to get them there.


Emergency management also has hosted tabletop and live exercises.


“You can have the best written plan in the world, but if you don’t train and you don’t exercise, it’s no good,” Connors said.


A committee county responders and leaders helped Connors decide what equipment the county needed. They tried to apply for items that would be functional for routine emergency responses, not just big disasters, Sleeter said.


“In preparing for the worst, we keep an eye on what’s likely to happen the soonest,” Sleeter said. “Rock County’s more likely to be struck by a tornado than terrorists.”


How the money was spent

Since 2003, Rock County has spent $1.4 million on homeland security.


Some was spent on necessities, such as back-up generators and communication equipment.


Some equipment was chosen because it was what the federal government demanded, such as the paper facemasks the county bought in case of a biohazard disaster.


“Did we get everything we needed?” said Shirley Connors, Rock County’s emergency management coordinator.


“No.


“Would our top priority have been getting those masks?


“No.


“But that’s what the feds said we had to get.”


Here are some of the things Rock County and its municipalities bought with the $1.4 million:


-- $387,000 in radio equipment that allows police and fire to talk to each other and to responders in surrounding counties.


-- $65,000 for two “live scan” fingerprint devices, one for the Janesville Police Department and one for the sheriff’s department.


-- An incident command trailer housed by the sheriff’s department and available to any department in the county.


“Before the trailer, we’d have a couple supervisors huddled in a squad with a pad of paper,” said Janesville Police Deputy Chief Dave Moore.


The trailer has multiple workstations and radios, a laptop computer, a briefing area and a rotating video telescope mounted on a mast.


Janesville police has its own SWAT trailer, with a workstation and storage for equipment, Moore said.


-- A backup computer server, a backup radio base system and lots of spare parts for county radios and towers.


-- A variety of smaller trailers to respond to different incidents. The trailers are housed in departments around the county. The one at the Evansville Fire Department stores an ATV, disposable blankets, two portable generators, scene lights, ropes, vests, windsocks, megaphones, flashlights and fire extinguishers, said Evansville police Lt. Art Phillips.


-- A county-wide technical rescue team that steps in to help emergency responders with tricky rescues or unusual situations.


-- Dozens of training sessions to help responders deal with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive events.


And if the money were still flowing in, what would local departments buy?


-- Sheriff’s department Cmdr. Troy Knudson said the department could use more cell phones for better communication with first-line responders, squad car cameras and upgrades for weapon systems.


-- The Janesville Fire Department recently wrote two applications for federal money. The request for a hazardous materials response vehicle was rejected, but the department is waiting on a request to upgrade its extrication equipment, Chief Larry Grorud said.


-- Rock County 911 Communications Director Dave Sleeter would invest in more radio equipment for workers in the public works or transportation departments. Those people are likely respond in an emergency, and at this point, they don’t have the equipment to talk to police and firefighters, Sleeter said.



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