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  • Communications System

    LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - With many police and fire departments
    across the state unable to communicate with each other via radio,
    there is little debate that Nebraska needs to build a statewide
    communications system.
    Problem is finding the $90 million to $100 million to put it
    together.
    "That's going to be the challenge - how we can afford this in
    this financially difficult time?" said Lt. Gov. Dave Heineman.
    The State Patrol and many other agencies built their radio
    systems more than 40 years ago.
    Since then, better technology has been developed using different
    frequencies, but not all departments have had radio upgrades. Thus,
    many departments cannot communicate with each other.
    In Madison County, for example, 19 public safety agencies use
    seven radio frequencies.
    Patrol Col. Tom Nesbitt said the radio problems are a safety
    hazard for troopers, particularly the "dead spots" - where
    low-frequency radio waves used by older systems fail to negotiate
    dips in terrain.
    In such areas, Nesbitt said, troopers sometimes hesitate to stop
    suspects for fear of being caught in a dangerous situation without
    access to help.
    The patrol equips troopers with cellular phones and - in Omaha
    and Lincoln - portable radios that are compatible with local police
    frequencies.
    The communication void manifested itself on Aug. 13, when an
    inmate escaped from two Saline County deputies who were returning
    him to the State Penitentiary from a court appearance.
    "We had Lincoln police, Saline County, the State Patrol and the
    Department of Corrections - and nobody could talk to each other,"
    Nesbitt said. "That could have been a real serious situation."
    State lawmakers passed a bill in 2002 that created a
    first-of-its-kind partnership to buy the system.
    The measure empowered the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority
    or other entity to issue bonds to buy the system.
    The cost of paying off the bonds would be split among the state
    and local police agencies, based on how many radios they have.
    Cities and counties would not have to participate in the system.
    While the state would still have to pay part of the cost of the
    system, much of it would be shifted to local taxpayers.
    Nesbitt is heading a board appointed by Gov. Mike Johanns to
    figure out how to build and pay for the system.
    For their part, many cities and counties are struggling with
    tight budgets and would be hard-pressed to find the money to pay
    for the system.
    "We'd have to certainly see where it would hit the budget,"
    said David Springer interim city administrator for Grand Island.
    Lynn Rex, executive director of the League of Nebraska
    Municipalities, said building a new system is essential.
    "Yes, localities are financially strapped, but ... public
    safety folks have to be able to talk to each other," she said.
    "They just have to."
    Heineman, Nebraska's director of homeland security, said the
    federal money earmarked for homeland security could be used by
    cities and counties to buy radios.
    But under present rules, it could not be used to pay for the
    estimated $75 million worth of communications towers needed to link
    the network.
    Johanns has asked federal Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge
    to consider allowing the state to use future homeland security
    money to help pay for the towers.
    "We're working hard to try to get the feds to agree to let us
    use that money," Nesbitt said.
    --
    On the Net:
    State of Nebraska: http://www.state.ne.us/

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

    *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
    On the web at www.section2wildfire.com

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