Ten years ago, we were glad to see the state drop its plans for a statewide emergency communications system. At $2.2 billion, the system would have been too expensive, and several trial tests showed it wasn’t going to work. At the time, we said that regional systems were the way to go, and the state ultimately did, providing grant money to multicounty consortiums in a competitive process. Unfortunately, Schenectady County is one of only a handful of counties in the state that hasn’t gotten any. It has to do better in the next round.
Earlier this month, Saratoga, Fulton and Montgomery counties received $6.3 million to connect their police, fire and ambulance personnel with those in other counties through microwave transmission. They’ll become part of a 13-county consortium stretching from the Mohawk River all the way to the Canadian border.
The idea of a statewide system began in the 1990s with Gov. George Pataki, but it really got a push from 9/11, when incompatible communication systems of the police and fire departments added to the death toll at the World Trade Center that day. All of a sudden, in the interest of homeland security, it seemed essential that every part of the state, from Broadalbin to Batavia to Brooklyn, be able to communicate with one another; that every type of emergency communication device in use be seamlessly linked. In fact, most of the funding for those state grants comes from the federal Department of Homeland Security.
But while terrorism remains a serious threat in New York City, we’ve since seen that natural disasters, like Hurricanes Irene, Lee and Sandy, are a bigger threat in most parts of the state. And to his credit, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken the threat seriously: Immediately after those first storms, in 2011, he said that with climate change, more are coming; and that we must plan and prepare for them; and that improved local and regional communications are essential.
Two weeks ago, in the third round of grants, $75 million was handed out to 17 counties, but none to Schenectady, which was asking for $6 million (the maximum grant) to connect to Albany County’s system. Schenectady also got skunked in the previous two rounds (during which another $170 million was awarded). That makes it the only one of its neighbors, and one of only five counties in the state still not funded under the program.
Schenectady’s application failed even though the county received guidance from the state after the second round, and even though the third round was limited to counties that hadn’t been funded before. As a spokesman for the state’s Division of Homeland Security, which is administering the program, said, “we stand ready to help, we want to help, we want to fund.” The spokesman also said there could be a meeting between the county and agency staff as early as this week at which there will be a “frank and honest discussion about their application ... and why they subsequently weren’t funded.”
We suggest that county officials listen carefully at the meeting, change the proposal as necessary, and find someone who can write an adequate grant application.