City's still in no rush to upgrade emergency radio system

More than three years ago, the city of Houston learned that HPD's radio system was outdated. Two years ago, KHOU-11 got its hands on the report and asked Mayor White what the city was going to do about it. His answer?

"It's not a problem that's going to be solved in one day. It will be over a period of years," said Mayor Bill White.

And he wasn't kidding. A year and a half after its first report, KHOU followed up to check on the progress of a new emergency radio system. The conclusion? No progress. Zip, zilch, nada.

Today the Chronicle gets into the act, questioning HPD's unreliable, unpredictable radio system. What's Mayor White's response this time?

Mayor Bill White scoffed at the criticism, insisting the city remains well prepared for disasters. He noted that the city's radio system withstood Hurricane Rita when more than a million people evacuated.

''I think that there tends to be an overemphasis in Washington on hardware and an underemphasis on the planning and cooperation and ability to improvise by our community," White said.

Planning and cooperation are going to be worth squat if Houston's front-line emergency responders don't have the ability to communicate with each other.

Steven Jones, executive director of the First Response Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes for advanced communications systems for police, fire and other agencies called Houston's incompatibility with other local agencies "incredibly alarming."


As the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington made emphatically clear, emergency response crews must be able to communicate with each other during disasters. In New York, commanders were unable to radio firefighters to direct them to evacuate the World Trade Center before the towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

And the Chron's story points out that in addition to the 2003 study, the city commissioned ANOTHER study last year!

Here's the bottom line: The city has had years of notice that its emergency radio system is woefully inadequate, and the city, under Mayor White's leadership, has done nothing to start fixing the problem. (Two studies don't count.) The city is drawing in record tax revenue, has new revenue streams in place, and last year was sitting on a surplus. Considering that some of the cost of a new radio system will be covered by federal grants, Houston should be well into the upgrading process by now. Since the city has taken no steps to get a new system in place, it is facing a critical problem that will be much harder to tackle since it won't be able to do it in pieces, like Harris County has done.

As it stands now, the city says it's probably five years away from the radio system it needs. But Mayor White says he'll be ready to tackle it...down the road. He just needs to be reelected again:

"If the public allows me to keep the job for the next three years, I do want to put in place a strategy and contracts and a financing plan to get us into a state-of-the-art public safety communications system," White said.

Meanwhile, take any of Mayor White's pet causes over the past several years and note how fast he's moved to implement them: $AFEclear, Parking Authority, red light cameras, smoking ban, downtown park, Proposition 1, Proposition G, commercial vehicle parking ordinance, subsidized housing, apartment remodeling, etc., etc.

It's quite a contrast.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 01/21/07 04:26 PM | Print |

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