Governor Nixon has put on hold an $80 million plan to modernize and standardize Missouri’s emergency communication system, a move that has shocked the state representative who has worked for three years on the project.

The contract with Motorola was signed in the last days of the Blunt Administration and called for the standardization of the radio systems used by police, fire and paramedics from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so all workers could talk to each other in times of emergency. It goes by the name of interoperability.

Rep. Mark Bruns (R-Jefferson City), a former firefighter, recalls the compounding of the horror of 9/11 in New York City when a police helicopter reported 20 minutes before the collapse of the second building that it appeared ready to fall. Bruns says the police got the message, because it was delivered over the police department communication system. The warning didn’t reach firefighters in time, because they were using a different system. The lack of interoperability cost 343 firefighters their lives.

In contrast, emergency response to the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis went smoothly, because all the emergency responders were using compatible radio systems.

Bruns says the problem in Missouri is that highway patrol troopers can’t get through to county sheriff’s deputies who can’t talk with police officers who can’t talk to firefighters, a formula that can turn deadly in a time of crisis.

He says emergency workers have the right to expect that they can communicate effectively with each other in time of need and he says the public has that same expectation. Bruns says it’s time for the state to deliver on that expectation. Bruns hopes to work with the governor’s office to allow the contract to go through. 

Download/listen Brent Martin reports (1:15 MP3)