Television viewers were misinformed recently about Putnam County's use of Homeland Security funding, county officials heard Monday.
"The gentleman from Channel 13 was flat out not advising the public accurately," local Emergency Planning Agency director Kim Hyten advised commissioners Kristina Warren, Gene Beck and Dennis O'Hair as he reviewed the equipment purchased and placed by the federal grant.
Hyten and EMA assistant director John Shafer said the county is covered with early emergency alert sirens for the more heavily populated areas. Maintenance of those sirens to make sure they sound during a weather alert or other emergency is the responsibility of the townships, city or town where the sirens are located, Hyten said. The county does not cover the sirens with maintenance or insurance.
Hyten and Shafer were referring to a recent TV news series on tornado sirens aired by WTHR Channel 13 which cast a bad light on how the county was spending its homeland security money to protect against weapons of mass destruction, rather than on early warning sirens.
Hyten said that rather than focus on emergency sirens, he recommends the county invest in a Reverse 911 system that can notify each residence through a telephone call that bad weather or another emergency is imminent.
"Reverse 911 was not mentioned," Hyten said of the TV report.
As for the emergency sirens, Hyten indicated that the system is getting old and harder to maintain. The Reverse 911 system is a better method to warn residents not only of approaching tornados, but other emergencies such as evacuation notices.
Hyten and Shafer both defended the spending of the $58,000 in homeland security money received by the county in 2005.
"We have to be spending the money properly or the state wouldn't let us spend the money," Hyten said.
"And I won't be doing another interview with Bob Segall," he added, referring to the Channel 13 television reporter who talked to him about the siren issue.
Shafer said that even one of the state's top emergency management officers was not aware of a recent change which allows the homeland security money to be used for early warning sirens. What the funds are intended to assist counties do, Shafer said, is to respond to and recover from acts of terrorism, and cover training, planning and assistance.
"It's all sensationalism," Shafer said of the TV report, adding that the reporter made fun of the fact the county purchased monitors for chemical and radiological protection, but did not point out the use for those items.
There's a good reason the funds were used to purchase a neutron rae II monitor and four gamma rae monitors, both of which are for radiological detection, Shafer said.
When DePauw University has internationally-known guests, such as former Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev last fall, federal agents request the equipment be available as a matter of routine security, Shafer said. The monitor is housed at the Greencastle Fire Department. The gamma rae monitors are dispersed among the Greencastle Police Putnam County Sheriff's Department, GFD, and one is available for any department that needs its, such as DePauw or the EMA office.
The remainder of the $58,000 was spent on several items.
-- A PortaCount Fit Tester can be used by the Greencastle Fire Department. It saves the county "a tremendous amount of money," Shafer said, because it can be used to test all emergency responders in the county.
-- Six Task Force 7 mapping systems were purchased for global position mapping, and have been given out to area police and fire departments to assist in locating hazardous material emergencies and evaluating the scene.
-- Forty-seven weapons of mass destruction test strips have been dispersed among area fire and hazardous materials teams.
-- Seven gas monitors for chemical detection are available at the Roachdale, Russellville, Floyd Township, Fillmore, Jefferson Township, Madison Township and Cloverdale fire departments.
-- And 124 chemical personal protection equipment suits have been provided among all county emergency agencies that were not already outfitted. Those agencies must be certified and provide personnel rosters.
"We can justify how it works to show that we are within the guidelines," Shafer told the commissioners about the equipment purchased.
The process for spending the money was overseen by a 12-person local board, he noted, and then it must be approved by the state.
"Everything was okayed," he emphasized. "We can look up where everything we purchased was within the guidelines."
Commissioner O'Hair asked Shafer if there is any way the county can get equal press time to air correct information to the public.
"They took one sentence out of maybe 10 and pieced them together," Shafer said of Channel 13.
Hyten said there were facts omitted from the story that should have been included.
"The fact is we are interested in Reverse 911, not more sirens," he said.
The commissioners meet regularly on the first and third Mondays of each month at 6 p.m. in the courthouse annex. The meetings are open to the public.