SOMERSET -- State officials and Rep. Hal Rogers marked the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on Monday by rolling out a new statewide wireless network that would allow first responders to communicate from every corner of Kentucky in the event of a disaster.
Rogers, who heads a House committee that oversees spending for the Department of Homeland Security, said the $26 million system will help first responders, such as local police and firefighters, keep safe while working emergencies efficiently.
He said first responders dispatched to the sites of the Sept. 11 attacks were equipped with radios and other devices, but couldn't adequately communicate with each other or their supervisors. He said first responders assisting the victims of Hurricane Katrina also had major communication problems.
"We saw that a breakdown in communication was disastrous," Rogers said during a ceremony at the Center for Rural Development in Somerset that also was attended by Gov. Ernie Fletcher and officials from the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.
The new first responder system, dubbed "KYWINS Messenger," relies on a state-run wireless network that allows officers to communicate via radio and instant messages from even the most remote areas in rural Kentucky using lap top computers installed in vehicles. The computer program includes a database that can retrieve background information on people and buildings.
A three-month pilot has started in Pulaski and Laurel counties in south-central Kentucky, with the rest of the state expected to be logged on by the end of the year.
Fletcher said the program would help with any type of disaster, ranging from bird flu to tornadoes.
"The anniversary of 9/11 ... reminds us of the heroic efforts of our nation's first responders who worked together in the aftermath of the attacks to help save lives and serve their communities," said Fletcher. "This new project will ensure our first responders have the tools and resources they need to communicate effectively while they protect Kentucky citizens."
Adequately equipping local responders is crucial in the fight against terrorism and shouldn't be limited to big cities, such as New York or Washington, D.C., Rogers said.
"We are at war and it's a world war," said Rogers. "It's low-grade with hot spots -- but it's a world war."
He added that major highways, railroads and other "critical infrastructure" exist in Kentucky, making it equally vulnerable to attack: "Every part of the country has vulnerabilities."
Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, Rogers was appointed as the first chairman of the new appropriations subcommittee on homeland security. Since then, the subcommittee has issued $217.5 billion in homeland security spending, including $117 billion to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security budget.