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Wireless Commission Looks for Sustainable Funding for Emergency Radio System: Part 1

By Evelina Burnett | Published 25 Jul 2013 03:38pm | comments
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Mississippi Emergency Management Director Robert Latham remembers being at the Harrison County emergency operations center the day after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, in August 2005.

The monster storm had knocked out all of the communications systems in the area.

"In fact, I couldn't even talk to Hancock County of Jackson County so I actually had to put an individual in the car with a note that had several questions on it, 'What was the status over there?' 'What do you need?'  They'd go over there, get answers to the questions and bring them back," said Latham.

 After the storm, the state decided to make sure this would never happen again. It's since built a $220 million emergency radio system with 144 towers throughout the state. The final piece of the system went live in March. This radio system is now used by more than 180 state, federal and local agencies.

"If, worst case scenario happens, say a tower goes down on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we've got the site on wheels which is basically a portable tower on wheels that we can pull down there have it up in operation within just a few hours," continued Latham. 

 The state legislature appropriated $6 million for the commission this fiscal year; the commission estimates it needs $10 million to operate. But Latham thinks once legislators see the agency’s business plan, due in late August, they’ll "ok" the funding requests. Miss Rep. Scott Delano says that, to get both house and senate approval, the commission’s budget will probably have to include fees for users.

"The only way that the MSWIN system can generate revenue is going to be based off of fees that are to be collected from users that are on the system, whether they're state agencies or local agencies," said Delano.     

The commission rescinded user fees last year in an effort to boost the numbers of users. Which it did, jumping from about 7,000 to around 20,000 users in just over a year. 





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