FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 21, 2012
AT SCHUMER’S URGING, DHS REVERSES COURSE AND CHANGES POLICY, LETTING ONONDAGA COUNTY LINK UP – DECISION WILL PAVE THE WAY FOR THE CREATION OF A 5-COUNTY FIRST RESPONDER INTEROPERABILITY NETWORK
Onondaga County Sought to Use $325,000 In Already- Secured Department Of Homeland Security Funding To Upgrade Radio Frequencies To Communicate With First Responders In Neighboring Counties, But DHS Rejected The Request
Schumer Convinced Homeland Security Secretary To Reverse Course & Let Onondaga County Link-Up With Madison, Cayuga, Oswego, And Cortland To Create Five-County Network
Schumer: This Move Opens The Door For Better Public Safety Throughout Central NY
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that the Department of Homeland Security will permit Onondaga County to use already-secured federal funds to enable the county to join the Central New York Interoperable Communications Consortium, which will boost public safety. Onondaga County had asked the Department of Homeland Security for permission to spend $325,000 of already disbursed funding to reprogram public safety radios so that they can communicate with first responders in Madison, Cayuga, Oswego, and Cortland County. Citing department policy, DHS refused the request because the radios were originally purchased using non-DHS funding. During a tour of the Onondaga County Emergency Center, Schumer urged DHS to reverse course and allow the upgrades, which would pave the way for the creation of the 5 county network. The department informed Schumer that the policy will be reversed which will allow Onondaga County to resubmit its request and that the request will likely be accepted.
“I want to thank the Department of Homeland Security for the work they do to keep our country safe, and for making the right call and reversing this backwards policy that was hampering public safety in Central New York,” said Schumer. “We learned many lessons as a country on 9-11, including the importance of clear and effective communication between our first responders when disaster strikes. An interoperable radio network is the key to making that happen, and with Onondaga County now in a prime position to join the team, communities throughout Central New York can sleep a bit easier tonight knowing that our first responders will be better equipped in emergency scenarios.”
The Department had previously told Onondaga County that using DHS funds to upgrade radios that were purchased with non-DHS money is not an acceptable use of DHS funding, despite the fact that creating an interoperable radio network is essential for public safety. During a visit to Syracuse earlier this month, Schumer asked DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to reverse course and allow Onondaga to upgrade their radios and join the interoperability network. Schumer stressed that these upgrades will greatly enhance public safety, as first responders throughout Central New York will be able to communicate and assist one another in the event of a major storm, accident, or disaster.
In February of 2010, Onondaga County activated the Onondaga County Interoperable Communications System (OCICS), a comprehensive radio system that serves all of the public safety agencies operating within the county. As the county was building the network, Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego counties all joined to form the Central New York Interoperable Communications Consortium (CNYICC). The first responders in the CNYICC mutually agreed to develop a seamless wireless communications system for public safety agencies within the five-county region. The regional build-out is progressing on schedule and it is expected that four of the five counties will be online by the end of this year.
To ensure interoperable emergency communications within the CNYICC, a regional channel sharing plan was created and incorporated into the CNYICC Tactical Interoperable Communications Plan. Counties scheduled to come online in 2012 will be able to implement the regional channel sharing plan in their public safety radios as part of the factory programming prior to the system going online. The radios in Cayuga, Cortland, Madison and Oswego are already equipped to join the multi-county network. However, Onondaga County will not be able to participate and achieve regional emergency communications interoperability without reprogramming their existing radios.
Several months ago, Onondaga County sought permission to spend $325,000 of Department of Homeland Security grant funds in order to reprogram approximately 1,100 public safety radios so that the county can join its neighboring counties in the network. That initial request was denied by DHS on the grounds that request was considered an upgrade to equipment that was not purchased with Homeland Security Grant Program funds, and is therefore not an acceptable use of the funding according to DHS policy. DHS has now decided to change their policy, and told Schumer’s office that Onondaga’s application is now very likely to be approved thanks to the policy change.
The Onondaga command center currently houses a communications command room, equipped with servers and radio infrastructure the other counties need but cannot access. Schumer also toured the 911 command center, showcasing the radio command room as the nucleus of regional public safety. Other county members of the consortium agreed that without DHS approval, they would have been forced to reverse their consolidated public safety interoperable radio plan, putting the plan on life support until first responders can devise a new way to link up. Responders and emergency service personnel agree that a fully connected and functional interoperable system will allow federal officials to point to a local model at the national level. In fact, other areas of the country and other regions of New York State have already been closely following the consortium Schumer helped strengthen from its onset, in hopes to replicate its success.
Schumer and the Onondaga County first responders had argued that the DHS decision is inconsistent with the Department’s stated goal of improving interoperable emergency communications capability across states, territories, local and tribal governments and to support the implementation of the State Interoperable Communications Plans (SCIPs). Schumer has been a strong supporter of the interoperable network in Central New York, helping secure $800,000 in federal funds for Onondaga County’s initial network, which is being expanded to serve neighboring counties.
“First responders throughout Central New York will hear 10-4 as opposed to just radio silence,” continued Schumer. “We need to have our first responders’ backs because they have ours, and this is a step in the right direction.”