April 14, 2009 By Corey McKenna
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal last week announced $18.8 million in homeland security grant funding for urban search and rescue teams, additional fusion centers and technology upgrades for the state's corrections department.
"Statistics show that 90 percent of all victims of disasters are saved within the first few hours of an incident," Jindal said. But currently, the closest urban search and rescue team is in College Station, Texas, and it could take up to 20 hours for them to mobilize and respond to an incident in Louisiana.
"By the Governor funding the establishment of these teams in Louisiana, we will now have a much quicker and cost effective response, which could mean the difference between life and death in a state prone to hurricanes and where a homeland security incident is possible given the state's critical infrastructure and urban areas," Mark Cooper, director of GOHSEP said.
The Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness plans to award $1.32 million to three regions of the state to create the Statewide Urban Search and Rescue Task Force System.
"This program has been pursued for years in Louisiana but could never come together," Jindal said. The governor cited legislation that established the First Responders Subcommittee and brought fire service stakeholders from around the state together to agree on what the system should look like.
The New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport-Bossier City regions will sponsor three US&R task forces - and the $1.32 million will be equally divided among each region. The task force teams will consist of 28 members each operating on two shifts of 14 members. Each team will keep and maintain a supply of medical, search and rescue, communications, technical support, and logistics equipment that will allow them to operate independently for four days.
A second piece of the money will go toward establishing additional fusion centers throughout the state. $1.4 million will be awarded, the governor said, to support the Louisiana State Analytical & Fusion Exchange (LA-SAFE) and the Department of Corrections to upgrade its database with new technology.
Superintendent of State Police, Colonel Mike Edmonson noted the timeliness of the announcement given the activation of LA-SAFE early last week when state police and GOHSEP were notified of a possible threat posed by a stolen Cessna airplane flying south from Canada. Initial reports from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicated that the stolen plane could be on a path towards Louisiana, although its destination was unknown.
At that point, Edmonson and Cooper activated the fusion center and began coordinating with state response and law enforcement officials. A representative from DHS was also in the fusion center and GOHSEP and state police were in constant contact with National Guard officials. In the end, the plane landed without injury in Missouri.
GOHSEP will also be awarding $400,000 - as part of the total $1.4 million - to establish fusion centers in North and Southeast Louisiana. Specifically, $200,000 will be awarded to the City of New Orleans to assist in the creation of a fusion center in Southeast Louisiana. The state will use the balance of $200,000 for the establishment of a fusion center in North Louisiana at the Cyber Command Center in Bossier City.
The North Louisiana fusion center has been deemed the alternate state fusion center in the event the Baton Rouge facility is destroyed or becomes inoperable. State police will operate the fusion center in Bossier City with existing resources and will invite local and federal law enforcement and others to have to a presence.
LA-SAFE will receive $400,000 to purchase hardware and software equipment that will allow them to share criminal history and other information with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials.
In addition to the investment in LA-SAFE, the Louisiana Department of Corrections will utilize $600,000 of the $1.4 million to update the Criminal