Thursday, September 20, 2001

County debates security proposal

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's an old debate that has taken on new relevance.

        Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pushing to upgrade the county's emergency communication systems.

        He asked his two fellow commissioners on Wednesday to support four ideas, at a cost of $8.5 million, to accomplish that goal.

        Neither Commissioner John Dowlin nor Tom Neyer embraced the ideas.

        Mr. Portune suggested that the county:

        • Buy 70 outdoor warning sirens, at a cost of $1.4 million, to provide blanket coverage throughout the county.

        Currently, about 20 percent of the county's population is out of earshot of the existing 186 sirens.

        • Upgrade 155 of the sirens with battery back-up so they would continue to work in a power outage.

        Cost would be $2.7 million.

        • Spend $1.3 million to put siren control on the 800 megahertz communication system the county is building.

        • Spend $3.1 million over this year and next to eliminate fragmentation in the countywide emergency communication systems.

        The money would be used to get municipalities such as Deer Park, Norwood, Reading and St. Bernard to join the system.

Terrorism cited

        Mr. Portune has been pushing for the upgrades since April.

        But he said the terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C., and New York last week underlined the need for improvements.

        “There are gaps in the system and I'm of the opinion that they need to be addressed,” Mr. Portune said.

        “You can't have a countywide system unless it works countywide.”

        Mr. Dowlin said the county has already invested plenty — $34 million to build the infrastructure for a digital communication system that will be fully operational next year — and can't afford the upgrades.

        He called a press conference Wednesday afternoon to rebut Mr. Portune's opinion that the system should be upgraded.

        “The question really is: Who pays for it and how much?” Mr. Dowlin said.

        Mr. Neyersuggested that county staff evaluate Mr. Portune's recommendations and report back.

        “It's important to note that emergency services in the county work very well,” Mr. Neyer said.

Much has been done

        Don Maccarone, the county's emergency management director, agreed.

        He said the county has a layered network of emergency communications that gives complete coverage.

        He also said the county has taken advantage of federal grants over the past four years to train for domestic terrorism attacks.

        But Mr. Maccarone said he would like to see additions to the system such as those outlined by Mr. Portune.

        “In a perfect world, I'd have 100 percent of everything,” Mr. Maccarone said.

        “But we have a very sound system, and we have been discussing ways to improve it given budget restraints.”


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