Closing in on state relay system
Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The Hill County Local Emergency Planning Committee in a meeting Tuesday discussed several issues including the status of a radio system that will allow instant communication throughout the state; organizing a local group of volunteers to help in emergency situations; and an influenza- shot clinic scheduled for Nov. 14-15. The first topic discussed was progress on creating the Northern Tier of the Interoperability Montana system, a microwave-relay system that will eventually allow instantaneous radio communication throughout the state by law enforcement and emergency response entities and other groups. “It’s an extraordinarily complex but extraordinarily capable system,” Ed Gierke, district representative of Montana Disaster and Emergency Services said during the LEPC meeting. Ron Knudson, Hill County DES coordinator, said the system in Hill County could be ready for testing in two months. He said the next step is to identify what groups could eventually be added to the system and exactly what their use of the system would be. Hill Couny Undersheriff Don Brostrom, a member of the Northern Tier committee and chair of the Interoperability Montana Technical Committee, said in an interview Tuesday that mapping what groups Would use the system and how they would use it has just begun, and it will probably take three to four months to finish the process in Hill County. Responding to a question during a meeting of the local 911 committee Tuesday, Brostrom said the mapping of users needs to be as complete as possible. If all users are included when the system becomes operational, it will essentially cost nothing to include them. It will have a cost to add users later, because all of the radios used would have to be reprogrammed. “We want to plan it out as much as possible so it doesn’t cost us money down the road,” Brostrom said. In Hill County, law enforcement and the Havre Fire Department are expected to be the first added to the system, with rural fire and ambulance services likely to be added next. The full list of users could eventually include entities like the Havre Public Works Department a n d No r t h e r n Mo n t a n a Hospital. In addition to allowing seamless statewide communication, the system will allow programming to let different departments communicate with each other, and regrouping of allowed signals. For example, in a multicounty emergency, the system could set up a special group that would allow Hill and Blaine County law enforcement and emergency responders to talk to each other during the incident. He said the sys t em’ s Northern Tier, which will stretch from the eastern border to the western border along the northern part of the state, is expected to be operational in April or May of next year, depending on the weather. The LEPC also discussed sett i n g u p a Community Emergency Response Team. That program trains and organizes volunteers to help during an emergency situation. During an exercize requested by local entities and put on by the state, groups found that during a major emergency their staffs would be stretched to the limit, with few people available to fill slots if more people were needed or people had to be replaced due to injury or illness. Hi l l County Sheri f f Greg Szudera also said during a previous LEPC meeting that during a bomb threat at the local Kmart on Aug. 29, he needed more help than was available. He estimated he would need at least an additional 15 people during a major emergency. The CERT program trains and organizes volunteers, generally organizing groups with volunteers who have had basic training in disaster preparedness, disaster fire suppression, basic disaster medical operations, light search and rescue, and team operations. They are designed to act as an auxiliary to existing emergency responders in the event of a major disaster. The volunteers can help emergency personell with tasks ranging from light search and rescue operations to paperwork and dispatch. This can free up emergency personnel for other duties during an emergency. Gierke recommended the LEPC contact the Cascade County CERT, saying that team is exemplary in its work and could help Hill County in setting up its own team. Hill County Director of Nursing Riki Handstede told the LEPC that the Hill County Health Department would hold an influenza vaccination clinic at the District IV Human Resources Development Council offices on the south edge of Havre on Nov. 14-15. The Centers for Disease Control is recommending that people wait until closer to Thanksgiving to get vaccinated for the flu, she said, which is why the clinic has been scheduled when it has. Handstede said the Health Department will be trying to vaccinate as many people as possible during the clinic, and will be looking for volunteers to help with tasks ranging from registering patients and collecting fees to monitoring patients after they receive the vaccination. The clinic will also have a fast-track line, where people who have preregistered for the clinic can proceed quickly through a line to receive their vaccination.