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County to Link Radio Systems

September 13, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County leaders announced Friday they would spend $1.5 million in federal anti-terrorism funds to purchase equipment to improve radio communications among the area's multiple fire and police agencies during emergencies.

Problems arise because each public safety agency uses a different radio system and frequency to relay information to personnel in the field.

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said officials plan to overcome that obstacle with the purchase of five vans equipped with computerized radio receivers that can patch together otherwise incompatible radio systems.

Communication problems have complicated responses to several major emergencies, including the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the 1992 Los Angeles riots, officials said. The same incompatibility of radio systems hindered emergency operations in the terror attacks on New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

"We know we have a problem and we are trying to fix it," Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said during the news conference at LAPD headquarters where the plan was announced. "There are 45 policing agencies and 30-plus fire departments in the county and they all need to talk to one another."

On Sept. 11, 2001, said Councilman Jack Weiss, "there were New York Police Department helicopters that radioed in their assessment that the World Trade Centers were going to collapse and the 343 firefighters inside the Trade Center could not hear those transmissions because they were not on the same frequency."

In announcing the purchase, city and county officials said they still needed at least $224 million for other equipment, training and staffing to fully prepare for possible terrorist attacks in the Southland. As a result, Bratton and Baca will travel to Washington on Sept. 23 to seek more federal grants.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, Los Angeles has spent $138 million to improve the security preparedness of public safety agencies, including the purchase of gas masks, radiological detectors and anti-chemical suits for 3,500 police officers and firefighters.

Mayor James K. Hahn said money for the vans will come from about $31 million the city has received from the federal Department of Homeland Security for non-airport security matters.

The city will receive another $256 million in federal money to defray the cost of new baggage screening systems at Los Angeles and Ontario airports.

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