The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 27, 2011

EMA plans upgrades in wake of disaster

By Jean Cole
jean@athensnews-courier.com

— The three months that followed the April 27 tornadoes were a blur for workers at the Limestone County Emergency Management Agency.

They worked nearly around-the-clock to try to help coordinate assistance to victims.  Since then, they have been determining what equipment and procedure could have worked better during the disaster.

Director Rita White said the agency has added at least five satellite telephones to the one the already had in its mobile command center, a moveable trailer that can serve as its base when needed. The advantage of satellite phones is that they don’t rely on cellphone towers, many of which were downed or damaged during the April storms, she said.

Other agencies, such as the Limestone County Sheriff’s Department, have also added more satellite phones in the wake of the storm.

The EMA is also upgrading its mobile command post — a trailer that can serve as a mobile base — using a $27,179 Homeland Security grant, White said. Grant funds will also be used to add some wireless Internet service, she said. EMA will also be moving to the mobile command post a piece of equipment that allows them to bridge varying radio frequencies such as VHF and UHF, which are used by different agencies.

Although the EMA has repeaters capable of bridging the various frequencies so EMA, fire departments and other agencies can talk to one another, some of those repeaters were destroyed by the storms. The Limestone County Sheriff’s Department lost one and EMA lost three, White said.

Also with the grant, the agency will help other agencies comply with the new narrow-band -width deadline on Jan. 1, 2012.