Grants bolster first responder coffers

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Clovis law enforcers and emergency responders agree the post-9/11 climate has made federal funding more attainable for local agencies.

Clovis/Curry County Emergency Management Director Ken De Los Santos said federal funding for responders in the area over the last five years has totaled more than $1.5 million.

The terrorist attack in New York City has increased response readiness awareness and brought federal funding within reach of municipalities like the city of Clovis, De Los Santos said.

Funding must be used to fill specific, pre-approved requests, meeting federal criteria. Communication equipment, technology upgrades, hazardous material response equipment and training have been the primary benefits seen by local departments, he said.

De Los Santos said the next major purchase planned by the county is a mobile command unit — a vehicle complete with onboard communication equipment and other resources. Local agencies will be able to utilize the truck at the scene of a major incident to assist and manage responders at the location of an incident.
Last November’s fire in Floyd is an example of an event where the mobile unit would have been useful, De Los Santos said.

Each year Curry County receives a lump sum based on requests, and De Los Santos disperses the funds among individual departments.

“All I say is, ‘I’ve got some money,’ and they give me their lists,” he said.

Deputy Police Chief Dan Blair said the funds granted by the Department of Homeland Security, created in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, have enabled Clovis police to better equip officers and to upgrade vehicle radio and communication systems. Before 9/11, the need for better equipment was there, but budgetary constraints forced purchases to be made piecemeal, he said.

Earlier this year the police department also purchased 143 radio scramblers with grant money to afford them privacy in their communications.

“Before 9/11 the communication things would have been harder to get for us. It (9/11) did speed it up,” Blair said. “We were buying radios before every few years. This gave us the opportunity to equip all cars and all officers, and it’s still an ongoing thing.”

Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry agreed that communications upgrades have been the biggest boon to law enforcement on the coattails of the largest domestic terror attack in U.S. history.

“It’s caused (agencies) to be aware, making sure things are put in place,” Berry said.

“The biggest thing it did was make sure we had operable (and uniform) communications. If an agency shows up from Roswell, they can talk to an agency from Portales.”

Rescuers and fire personnel also have benefited from the more accessible coffers.

“Over the past few years that additional funding has helped us purchase some equipment and training we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Clovis Fire Chief Ray Westerman said. “For us the equipment is hazardous material equipment, and with the railroad and the amount of traffic on Highway 70, we needed it — we just couldn’t afford it. We relied on the Cannon Air Force Base team, and their availability is subject to a lot of factors.

“Immediately after 9/11 the focus was terrorism and training for first responders,” Westerman said.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina helped reinforce that point.

“It did raise awareness for some other agencies in the country that maybe they weren’t equipped well,” Westerman said. “It certainly raised awareness of politicians and gave fire departments an avenue to obtain the things needed.”