Vermont receives federal grants for homeland security

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(Host) The state of Vermont has received almost 11 million dollars in new Homeland Security grants.

The money will help to develop a comprehensive statewide communications system for law enforcement, fire safety and medical response teams.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) One of the top priorities of the national Homeland Security Agency is to develop a communications system in every state that allows various local, county and state officials to easily talk with each other in times of crisis.

Currently, Vermont doesn’t have this kind of system in place but that’s going to change in the coming years.

Homeland Security has just awarded the state nearly 11 million dollars to begin the implementation of a mobile data network and a 2 way voice radio system.

It will require the construction of new microwave transmitters and the acquisition of new technology.

Senator Patrick Leahy is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations committee. He says it’s critical to develop this system as soon as possible:

(Leahy) If something terrible happens in our little state the only way we can respond is if everybody can be brought into the loop and everybody can talk with each other the old system in our mountainous parts of Vermont with a number of different fire and rescue police local state county it was just inadequate and this will make it much much better.

Officials in a number of cities, including New York and Washington D.C., are angry because Homeland Security cut their overall funding levels this year.

Vermont ranks near the top of the country in per capita Homeland Security appropriations largely due to Leahy’s insistence that the national allocation formula include a base amount for all smaller states.

Leahy says Vermont’s grants are not coming at the expense of the larger cities:

(Leahy) How can Vermont a border state get money that New York City can’t the fact is that it doesn’t have to be an either or some competence in the handling of it by the Bush Cheney Administration and it can be taken care of instead of they come pot with one lame excuse after another and it doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper says the creation of a new communications system has been a top goal for many years:

(Sleeper) What we’re talking about is the ability to communicate across agencies across jurisdiction in a time of crisis in Vermont whether it’s a flood it could be a potential pandemic flu but recognizing that we would need to have resources from the southern end of the state come to the northern end or vice versa and all be able to talk to each other.

Sleeper says it will take several years and a lot more federal money to implement the new system on a statewide basis. He hopes to launch the first phase of the project in the Northeast Kingdom by the end of the year.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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