River patrol, radio gear boost local security efforts

GREENPORT—“Interagency communication and cooperation” are vital to combating foreign and domestic terrorism here. And “information sharing” is one of the biggest changes made by law enforcement agencies in the wake of the September 11 attacks 14 years ago, Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett told The Columbia Paper this week.

It seems fitting then that during this National Preparedness Month promoted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with the catch phrase, “Don’t Wait, Communicate,” that good news on that front came to the county with the announcement that Columbia County 911 has been awarded a $3.5-million state grant to expand and bolster the county’s emergency communications network.

The new post-9/11 normal emphasizes preparedness, safety and communication and Columbia County law enforcement agencies are squarely in the mix of zonal multi-jurisdictional task forces and counter-terrorism units, Sheriff Bartlett said.

Among those affiliations is the U.S. Coast Guard Field Intelligence Support Team. The Sheriff’s Office works with the team on counter-terrorism efforts along the Hudson River from the Port of Albany to the Port of New York.

“The river is an open highway and very few law enforcement agencies patrol it. Millions of dollars have been put into the bridges” that span the river to enhance detection and surveillance, he said.

Local river patrols got a boost last year, noted the sheriff, when his office took ownership of a new 2014 Boston Whaler, 24-foot patrol vessel. Valued at $125,000, the vessel was financed by the Coast Guard Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund. The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office was one of six law enforcement agencies to receive one of the patrol boats at no cost to the county taxpayers.

The $3.5-million communications grant coming the county’s way is distributed through a state-funded competitive grant program supporting regional communications partnerships. The grant will be used to make critical upgrades to radio infrastructure, equipment and technology.

Although all 62 counties in the state were eligible for the grant funding, only 55 applied. Columbia County was one of only 17 to receive an award and one of only eight counties to receive the maximum allowable award of $3.5 million. Total available statewide funding, coordinated through the state’s division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, was $50 million, according to a press release from Columbia County Planning and Economic Development.

The sheriff praised the efforts of Columbia County 911 Director Robert Lopez “to get money here to better our communications. Rob does a great job,” he said.

“When the attacks of 9/11 occurred, we were called on to respond. That response here in the upstate counties 14 years ago was largely coordinated by telephones and fax machines. This project to expand and upgrade our radio network will not only significantly improve communications here in Columbia County, but it will also allow us interoperability with other counties and state agencies – enhancing our ability to effectively respond to large-scale, regional events,” County 911 Director Lopez said in the release.

Proposed interoperability enhancements will work in tandem with a broader wireless communications upgrade the county is in the midst of completing. That project, approved by the Board of Supervisors back in 2013, has replaced antiquated equipment at radio tower sites, licensed new frequencies for emergency responders, and upgraded radios and paging equipment for county fire departments.

Asked whether the county is safe from a terror attack as a result of procedures put in place since 9/11, Sheriff Bartlett said, “We could never be 100% safe, but we do the best we can.”

Noting many “resources will be pulled elsewhere” should another attack occur in a major city, the sheriff said, “That’s why we have intelligence gathering, the Dive Team, K-9s, the SWAT Team. We have to be prepared to protect our county ourselves.”

To contact Diane Valden email

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