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posted: 2/6/2012 5:00 AM

Loud and clear answers needed on DuPage radio plan

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  • courtesy of Harris Corp.A new radio system that allows public safety workers in Aurora and Naperville to communicate with on another proved glitchy when implemented, but DuPage County and 65 other emergency agencies are readying for a similar one that's six years in the works.

      courtesy of Harris Corp.A new radio system that allows public safety workers in Aurora and Naperville to communicate with on another proved glitchy when implemented, but DuPage County and 65 other emergency agencies are readying for a similar one that's six years in the works.

  • Video: DuPage Emergency Phone board

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

If, heaven forbid, a terrorist were to attack in Wheaton, first responders would not be able to use their radios to readily call their colleagues in communities nearby either for help or to warn them of danger that could be heading their way.

This, despite six years of effort and $17 million and counting of taxpayers' money to buy equipment to allow that critical communication.

That is the sorry, frustrating and outrageous state of affairs in DuPage County more than 10 years after terrorists attacked us all on 9/11.

In DuPage, they have been trying -- and failing -- to get a system up and running. But the situation isn't better elsewhere, Jake Griffin reported in his Suburban Tax Watchdog column last week. In other suburban counties like Lake and Cook, officials rely on a variety of communication systems.

After the 9/11 attacks of 2001, there was plenty of work to be done and plenty of promises made about improved communication, improved security of key water and energy resources and improved protection for commuters of all kinds. And for several years afterward, we had the economic wherewithal to protect ourselves.

And yet, the communication update Griffin provided demonstrates again we didn't get enough done when times were better economically.

In DuPage, they've tried, but those footing the bills through phone taxes of several varieties and through a federal grant ought to start questioning loudly how their money is being spent and for what.

The new emergency communication system for 65 public safety departments is supposed to be introduced by the end of this month, but that comes after six years of delays and problems and with a total price tag of $30 million.

The project was initially supposed to take one year, noted Woodridge Mayor Bill Murphy.

Critics raise questions about how the Emergency Telephone System Board awarded some contracts without competitive bidding and conducted its business without proper public scrutiny. Even if the new radio system is working this year, those are questions that deserve answers.

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin has a draft of a report that might provide some clues and the early hints don't sound good.

"The report identifies some areas that need to be addressed," Cronin said.

It's difficult to fathom that emergency communication still can be so challenging in an age when we have smartphones with Siri to talk to and help us do so much. But in the past year, we've reported on this emergency communication trouble and similar problems inside the new Rivers casino in Des Plaines and with emergency radio systems in Naperville and Aurora. The questions must be answered. The problems must be solved. Our safety demands it.

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