HOMELAND SECURITY: All day, every day

Grant funding and groundbreaking legislation help secure one of

Hailed as a model for other ports around the country, House Bill 3011, authored by Rep. Wayne Smith, creates a Ship Channel Security District. The bill, passed by the Texas House and Senate, and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry, went into effect June 20. Creating a separate security district allows both public and private interests along the channel to cooperate in applying for funding as a unique entity. The first round of funding is expected to bring more than $30 million to enhance security on the waterway.

The district will be governed by commissioners representing industry, port operations and municipal governments along the channel with funds being administered by Harris County. The new Ship Channel Security District also will allow authorities to install additional surveillance and communications equipment.

Purchases of sonar devices and additional surveillance cameras along the channel also are expected with the first round of DHS Port Security Grant funding. The operation and maintenance of the equipment is provided by the Ship Channel Security District.

Technology helps get the job done

According to Capt. John Anderson of the Houston Police Department's Homeland Security Division, the spending of any grant dollars is carefully coordinated with Mayor Bill White's office to most effectively meet the city's needs.

"We have to be able to respond effectively to any emergency, and that means having equipment we use every day, not just for major disasters," Anderson says. "Local police and fire services respond daily to emergencies and crisis situations. The major change for first responders today has been the improvement in emergency response efforts through better coordination, integration and interoperability between not only police and fire services, but also other local, state and federal agencies as well as with the private sector."

Response to natural disasters, terrorist events and other emergencies can require specialized equipment. To meet those needs, the city has purchased dedicated equipment using UASI grants.

And $1.8 million in Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program (LETPP) Funding supplied the Houston PD with a helicopter and eight bomb squad rapid response vehicles.

Slightly more than $9.5 million over the last seven rounds of UASI grants allowed the Houston PD to purchase mobile and portable computers ($4.9 million) and personal protective equipment for 5,000 police officers ($1.2 million). The remaining portion allocated for terrorism prevention was used to purchase a mobile command post, mobile video camera surveillance truck, bomb squad and SWAT mobile command posts, waterway threat prevention (boats and dive equipment), crime scene recovery equipment, and SWAT team support.

Additionally, a new Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system, designed by Northrop Grumman, has been added to Houston's combined dispatch center. This AVL system is the second-largest of its kind in the country. Jill Arrasmith, manager of strategic initiatives for Northrop Grumman, says Houston's combined 911 center utilizes the same technology as Chicago, which is the largest combined police/fire/EMS consolidated dispatch center in the United States.

Installed just a few weeks ago at a cost of $1.2 million, Houston's CAD AVL system has no limit to the number of vehicles it can manage with AVL, although it is expected to average 2,500 vehicles at one time.

"One unique aspect of Houston's installation is that the system will be used every day, integrated with CAD technology already in place," Arrasmith says. "It also can be used for overall views of the city's resources during a major disaster."

Houston's AVL allows for recording vehicles' movements, and following a particular vehicle en route to a location. It allows command personnel to make instant decisions about allocating equipment and personnel, as well as knowing exactly where backup units are.

Each individual workstation at the dispatch center can view vehicle locations using the new application, as do the mobile field units themselves. Command personnel can view first responder resources on a variety of portable devices.

Arrasmith says similar applications are used by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, and the Chicago and New York City fire departments.

The future of communications

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