Chicago Lags in Homeland Security Report

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The Department of Homeland Security today reported on progress in emergency-responder communications in urban areas. One of the areas lagging behind the rest of the country is Chicago, which DHS says needs better coordination to make radio and computer systems work together. Chicago Public Radio's Alex Helmick reports.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

9/11 showed how important it is for emergency workers from different departments to have communications equipment that all works together. It also showed what happens when those communications fail. So for the past five years, federal, state and local agencies have been trying to fix the problem.

The Department of Homeland Security reported today there's been a wide range of success. Some cities, including Washington DC, now have excellent equipment and coordination while others don't. The Chicago area is one of those lagging behind.

Chicago Public Radio's Alex Helmick reports.

ALEX HELMICK: The Department of Homeland Security says Chicago and Cook County need to communicate better in emergency situations. Their first responders need radios and computer systems that mesh quickly in a catastrophe.

George Foresman is the undersecretary for preparedness for the DHS.

Mr. GEORGE FORESMAN (Department of Homeland Security): You know, it's about making sure that there's going to be compatibility amongst all of the various different types of communications equipment that is purchased within the Chicago region.

HELMICK: But Chicago Mayor Richard Daley says the city is not at fault.

Mr. RICHARD DALEY (Mayor, Chicago): We have done a tremendous job. You can always improve on anything else, but again, if they're talking about the region outside Chicago about some issue, that's different.

HELMICK: Daley says Chicago's emergency management system is the best in the country. Chicago's chief emergency officer Cortez Trotter says the city's system has proven itself during some recent incidents.

Mr. CORTEZ TROTTER (Chief Emergency Officer, Chicago): You remember the LaSalle Bank Building fire? You remember the blue line derailment? You remember the power outage that the mayor mentioned? You don't get through those with some degree of success without a collaboration and good communication system.

HELMICK: DHS Undersecretary Foresman says the interoperability scorecard is not a pass/fail measure. He says all 75 cities looked at including Chicago have improved since 9/11 but need to continue to get better.

For NPR News, I'm Alex Helmick in Chicago.

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