Homeland Security funds link county responders

Dave Hollett is a modern-day juggler.

It’s not chainsaws the deputy director of Island County’s Department of Emergency Services spins above his head. It’s something much more volatile — 16 different grants that provide the equipment necessary for Island County to be prepared.

Several of those grants are resulting in some pretty fancy equipment coming to the county. A new, wireless data transfer system will allow units in the field to have access to data thousands of times faster than they do currently.

The $30,000 system will ease some of the frustration officers have while on a call, Hollett said.

“You could type your info and hit send, then go out and get a coffee, donut and a hot dog,” he said. “When you come back, it’s almost done.”

The county currently shares information via a 56k dial-up modem. The new system will provide up to 76 megabytes per second of data transfer, which is almost 1,400 times faster.

Eventually, the upgrades should provide high speed transmission of photos and files between the 911 center in Oak Harbor and the Langley and Oak Harbor police departments, the Freeland sheriff’s precinct, and sheriff’s precincts in Oak Harbor and on Camano Island.

The first leg of the project should be finished by October.

The system is part of a $106,000 Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Planning grant from the Department of Homeland Security. This grant will also provide adult to infant respirators, decontamination equipment and several handheld radios.

The radios are not cheap, either. Depending on the use, a portable radio can cost between $500 and $900. Some of the radios in police cars are approximately $3,600.

Island County Sheriff’s Spokeswoman Jan Smith said that while the equipment is welcome, it only does limited good if nobody is available to operate it.

“If we had our druthers, we’d be requesting human resources,” she said.

The problem with the grants, however, is that they expire. Hollett said that several of the grants have ended and he is seeking an extension for others. He said that government red tape makes it difficult to get purchases authorized in a timely fashion.

The grant for the radio equipment became available in September of 2003, but Island County didn’t see money until late last year.

Also, the sources of the funds are drying up. The county has received approximately $340,00 in Homeland Security grants the last two years. For 2006, only $180,000 is available.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at

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