County to get funds to fight terrorism

July 14, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL


Washington County will receive nearly $250,000 as part of a $7.4 million federal grant to aid in prevention of terrorist acts.

A county emergency services official and a captain with the Hagerstown Police Department say the money most likely will be used for improvements to the county's radio communication system.

The county will receive $212,578.08 from the federal Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program, according to a news release from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security. Eighty percent of the $7.4 million is being passed on to the 26 emergency management jurisdictions in the state, while 20 percent was held back for "statewide homeland security needs," according to the release.


Hagerstown Police Department Capt. Charles Summers said a meeting is scheduled for Tuesday with law enforcement authorities and county emergency services representatives to discuss how to use the money.

Summers, as well as Joe Kroboth, director of the county's emergency services department, said improvements to the public safety communications system are among the most likely uses for the money.

Police, fire, rescue and county officials have said in recent years that the county's current system has serious deficiencies and needs to be replaced. It is estimated that replacing the system will cost $15 million.

In January 2003, Washington County Sheriff's Department Capt. Douglas Mullendore cited several critical problems caused by system failures. Mullendore said deputies had to contact each other via cell phone after a West Virginia schoolteacher was found murdered in Sandy Hook in November 2002, and deputies were unable to communicate through the system during a mock school shooting exercise at Williamsport High School a few years before that.

Kroboth said Tuesday that the radio system has been a "high priority" for the Washington County Commissioners, Hagerstown Police Department and the Sheriff's Department for years. Kroboth said a new system would mean all government agencies in the county would be on the same network for the first time, making communication easier.

"I have to have eight or nine radios in my car to talk to all the agencies," Kroboth said of the current situation.

Kroboth said the grant can be used for the radio system because a widespread upgrade would drastically increase the county's preparedness for an incident.

Kroboth said part of the money also could be used to purchase response and deterrent equipment, like surveillance cameras, for departments based in Hagerstown, Hancock and Smithsburg.

He said the money cannot be used for training exercises, payroll expenses or the purchase of new vehicles.

- Staff writer Gregory T. Simmons contributed to this story.

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