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Oklahoma City ? The Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security (OKOHS) today announced its plans to distribute more than $32 million in federal grant funds to local governments. The funds will be divided between three critical areas: Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention (LETP), State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) and Citizen Corps Programs. Nevertheless, officials said this year?s focus will be funding the initial phase of a statewide interoperable communication system.

?Oklahomans always come together and join forces effectively during a crisis, as they did in the federal building bombing or the tornado of May 3, 1999. That is the standard we have set for the country,? said Gov. Brad Henry, who joined Homeland Security officials in the afternoon news conference. ?By providing responders with an efficient and effective communication system, we could remedy a major hindrance they deal with at disaster scenes.?

The initial phase of the project will cost more than $15 million and connect cities and counties along the Interstate-44 corridor on an 800/700 MHZ radio system. Approximately 75 percent of Oklahomans live along I-44 between Joplin, Missouri, and Wichita Falls, Texas.

?As we travel around the state and talk with responders the message we?ve been hearing is loud and clear: Communication is a huge obstacle to overcome during an emergency,? said Kerry Pettingill, Director of OKOHS. ?The communication problem really came into focus during the days after the Murrah bombing, but the money to fund a project of this magnitude has never been available until now.?

Towers, repeaters and radios will be purchased and placed in strategic locations along I-44, including Coweta, EMSA (Oklahoma County), Moore, Chickasha, Comanche County and Lawton. Phase One is expected to be operational in 18 to 24 months.

?I?ve been responding to fires and other emergencies in Moore for 19 years,? said Gary Bird, Deputy Chief of the Moore Fire Department. ?On a personal level I am very excited that OKOHS is funding this project. A better communications system will greatly improve the safety of first responders, as well as the citizens of Moore.?

Other priorities Gov. Henry and OKOHS have established for the SHSP funds include:

  • Regional Response System: These funds will be used for the completion of the statewide interoperable weapon of mass destruction regional response trailer system.
  • Tribal Collaboration: Funds awarded in this area are for the purchase of equipment to help local governments and tribes coordinate their homeland security efforts.
  • Response Equipment: Responders from all disciplines can use these funds to purchase equipment needed for their homeland security efforts.

?Funding these programs will not only help Oklahoma communities respond and recover should a terrorist target our state, but also help responders do their everyday job better,? said Pettingill. ?Whether it?s a car accident on the interstate or Mother Nature?s fury they deserve the best equipment money can buy.?

To date, OKOHS has received more than $60 million from ODP. In 2003, local governments used a majority of those funds to purchase equipment for responders.