By Sean Rice
Local emergency management officials are taking advantage of federal disaster preparedness money made available after Sept. 11, 2001, for improved communications, planning and mobility for emergency responders.
Mercer County Commissioners on Thursday approved using funds originating in the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) to purchase security equipment for water treatment facilities in St. Henry and Celina, and a Polaris off-road vehicle to be available for use by county fire, police and rescue personnel.
At the recommendation of the Mercer County Terrorism Task Force, commissioners also approved several equipment purchases in April, using money from annual allotments of homeland security grants. Purchases approved included a decontamination tent with water and heat for use on-site during an emergency, and communication radios for county hazardous-materials suits, which were purchased last year.
Wanda Dicke, of the Mercer County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), said officials are using remaining 2002 and 2003 annual homeland security allocations for the recent equipment purchases. Some planning dollars set aside for 2004 approved by the commissioners to go toward an assessment of the county's electronic communications shortfalls.
"It is a known fact that Mercer County has communication issues," states a resolution approved by Mercer County commissioners setting a maximum of $30,000 in federal homeland security funds for the study. In 2004, the county is expected to receive about $137,000 in homeland security money indirectly from the DOJ, for planning, equipment and administration uses, Dicke said. Annual allotments are based on population and other factors. In 2003, the county's allotment was $118,000, and it was $65,000 in 2002.
"We're not used to this kind of thing in Mercer County, Dicke said of the federal money arriving locally. "It's unreal."
Dicke said there are strict procedures to follow when planning and spending the homeland security funds, all purchases must meet state and federal specifications.
"What we are trying to to is what is best for the county," she said of the program.
In a regional grant program that is separate from the annual allotments, Mercer, Darke, Auglaize, Shelby and Van Wert counties were awarded $140,000 to purchase weather monitoring devises and equipment to set up MARCS portable radios in the five counties.
Regional officials will split 25 MARCS radios and about 30 "weather sticks," Dicke said. The expensive portable satellite radios are links to state and federal emergency agencies and will allow area officials to communicate between MARCS units regardless of the location.