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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 6, 2012

SCHUMER: FEDS ARE BLOCKING ONONDAGA COUNTY FIRST RESPONDERS FROM JOINING 5- COUNTY CENTRAL NY INTEROPERABILITY NETWORK, PUTTING PUBLIC SAFETY AT RISK – SENATOR CALLS ON DHS TO REVERSE COURSE AND HELP THE COUNTY LINK- UP



Onondaga County Wants 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 Has Said, “No."

Schumer, Who Secured $800,000 In Fed Funds To Build The Network, Calls On Homeland Security Secretary To Reverse Course & Let Onondaga County Link-Up With Madison, Cayuga, Oswego, And Cortland To Create Five-County Network

Schumer: We Learned on 9-11That All First Responders, From All Neighboring Counties, Must Be Able To Communicate When Disaster Strikes

 

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the Department of Homeland Security to let Onondaga County use already-secured federal funds to enable the county join the Central New York Interoperable Communications Consortium, which will boost public safety. Onondaga County has 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.

 

But, DHS refused to let Onondaga County spend the funds because the radios were originally purchased without DHS funding.

 

“This is a classic case of red tape choking off a common sense solution that will promote public safety without costing a new nickel,” said Schumer.

 

The Department 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 today, 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.

 

“We learned on 9-11 that first responders must be able to communicate quickly and effectively when disaster strikes, and an interoperable radio network will help them do exactly that,” said Schumer. “Instant and clear communications can literally make the difference between life and death – we can’t let bureaucracy get in the way. The Department of Homeland Security should be making smart investments that lead to interoperable networks and better communications, so I’m strongly urging them to reverse course and help Onondaga County link up with the rest of Central New York. I’m going to fight tooth and nail to get this decision reversed so our first responders can communicate effectively regardless of the agency they work for.”

 

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 regulations and guidelines.

 

Schumer today said that unless DHS reverses course, creating the Central New York Interoperable Communications Consortium will not be possible. Moreover, public safety radios in each of the five member counties will connect to different airwaves, potentially having an adverse impact on regional public safety, especially when answering emergency calls that border counties. 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 agree that without DHS approval they will be 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 argue 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.

 

The text of Senator Schumer’s letter to Secretary Napolitano appears below:

 

February 6, 2012

 

The Honorable Janet A. Napolitano

Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Nebraska Avenue Center, NW

Washington, DC 20528

 

Dear Secretary:

 

I write today to draw your attention to an important issue facing first responders in Onondaga County, New York.

 

In February 2010, Onondaga County activated the Onondaga County Interoperable Communications System (OCICS), a digital trunked land mobile radio system that serves the public safety agencies operating within the county. Subsequently, the counties of Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga, and Oswego joined to form the Central New York Interoperable Communications Consortium (CNYICC). The CNYICC mutually agreed to develop a wireless communications system for public safety agencies within the five county region.

 

To ensure interoperable emergency communications, a regional channel sharing plan was created and incorporated into the CNYICC’s Tactical Interoperable Communications Plan. Counties scheduled to come online in 2012 will be able to incorporate the regional channel sharing plan into their respective public safety radios prior to the system going online. However, Onondaga County, as the leader in designing and implementing this interoperable system, will not be able to participate and achieve regional emergency communications interoperability without acquiring funding for the needed reprogramming of its existing equipment.

 

Onondaga County sought permission to reallocate $325,000 of its FY2010 Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant (IECGP) for the purpose of re-programming approximately 1,100 public safety radios to achieve emergency communications interoperability as outlined in the CNYICC regional channel sharing plan. That request was denied due to department policy that prohibits using Homeland Security Grant Program funding to upgrade equipment that was not purchased with Homeland Security Grant Program funds. Denying this request is inconsistent with the IECGP’s stated goal of improving interoperable emergency communications across local governments and prohibits our first responders from communicating efficiently.

 

Therefore, I respectfully urge you to re-examine this policy and approve Onondaga County’s request to utilize Homeland Security Grant funding to bring its radios online with Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, and Oswego counties.

 

Thank you for your consideration of this important request.  If you need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at 202-224-6542.

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