Homeland Security Grade

A federal report says Houston area emergency agencies have a lot of work to do in improving their ability to communicate during large-scale disasters. Harris County's Homeland Security czar doesn't disagree, but thinks Houston is doing better than most other large cities. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The report from the Department of Homeland Security rates 75 Metropolitan areas on improvements in their emergency communications since 9-11, and only six metro areas got the highest grades. Harris County Judge and Homeland Security Director Robert Eckels says he gives Houston good grades.

"I would grade Houston an "A" for effort, and probably about a "B" for what we've got in place today."

The report gives Houston average ratings in developing emergency operating procedures and communication systems. Houston gets lower grades for coordination between local governments, and Eckels says that's because greater Houston is so big and diverse.

"In our area we have over five million people, we have 150 plus jurisdictions. And actually, on our Harris County radio system we have over 500 separate jurisdictions with separate entities out of about a hundred and fifty jurisdictions that are on our system today."

Eckels says the goal is to get everybody on the same page and communicating effectively during emergencies. Harris County has already spent 22 million local dollars on new radio and dispatch systems, but it's going to take a lot more than that.

"It is a very expensive proposition as you start moving the city system and other systems onto the joint communications platform. It will be in the tens of millions to well over 100 million dollars to replace all those radios with the new technology."

Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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