$20 mil. grant to upgrade radios, improve disaster response
Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a blistering report suggesting that first responders in Chicago and Cook County were ill-prepared to communicate with one another in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
Chicago ranked among the worst for disaster communication of 75 metropolitan areas rated in a mock disaster exercise. Homeland Security cited a "fragmented regional communications infrastructure" with "insufficient channels for joint operations," forcing many first responders to use their own cell phones.
Thanks to a $20 million Homeland Security Grant funneled through Chicago, 512 hand-held radios, equipment and software are being purchased from Motorola to allow first responders in the suburbs to talk to each other and to their city and state counterparts.
Dan Coughlin, coordinator of the Cook County Emergency Management Agency, said the 944 square miles of Cook County cover 128 municipalities. Each will get four radios for distribution to "incident commanders" who quarterback disaster scenes.
"You will not find circumstances like you had at the 69 W. Washington building in downtown Chicago," Coughlin said, referring to the 2003 fire at which communications breakdowns contributed to the deaths of six people trapped in smoke-filled stairwells.