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December 07, 2016
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Echoes of 9/11 in Highland

The events of September 11, 2001 echoed in the Town of Highland Town Hall in two disparate ways at its September meeting, which this year fell on that date’s exact 11th anniversary. On a positive note was a discussion of the Heroes Park, a public space centered around a mounted fragment of the World Trade Center dedicated to all veterans and public safety providers. A more dubious legacy was some controversy regarding the maintenance and upgrading of emergency communications equipment around the county, generated by a national Homeland Security Department that may not be sufficiently sensitive to real local needs.

Supervisor Andy Boyar, during his report, brought up the Heroes Park, saying it is time that management of the park be turned over from the 9/11 memorial committee to the town. He announced that volunteers are invited to participate in placing 137 memory bricks in the brickwork of the park on Saturday, September 22. The committee has funds left over after the sales of the memory bricks, and Boyar proposed that those funds be turned over to the new town group set up to maintain the park in perpetuity, to finance upkeep.

Boyar also proposed that something like the impromptu ceremony that had been held that morning be institutionalized, expanded and better publicized in future years. At the ceremony, town clerk Doreen Hanson had rung the town bell at 8:46 a.m., the time that the first plane flew into the first tower, and the times of other key events on 9/11. Other people assembled at the park, including members of the VFW and emergency personnel, and refreshments were made available.

The consequences of 9/11 were also evident in a more contentious matter raised by Yulan Fire Department member Bill Hofaker, however. Hofaker is the liaison between the fire department and the Sullivan County Legislature’s Safety Committee, which is overseeing a much-needed upgrade of the emergency communications systems in the county. Reporting on a meeting of that committee , Hofaker noted that although his fire department strongly supports the upgrade, it is opposed to a proposal to change radio equipment from low-frequency to high-frequency. Apparently, the original rationale for this dates from the days after 9/11, when some complained that police and EMS personnel could not communicate directly with fire personnel because of the difference in frequency ranges.

The Department of Homeland Security, formed in response to 9/11, made the initiative to put all responders on the same frequency range a priority. But it has failed to communicate adequately with localities about the matter, according to Yulan Fire Department president Jeff Haas.

The Yulan Fire Department objects to the proposal partly on financial grounds. To upgrade the equipment and shift bands would cost the county about $9 million, compared to $4 million to upgrade but stay low frequency. Furthermore, if a shift is made to high frequency, each individual fire department would have to come up with money in addition—in the case of Yulan, an estimated $40,000. As Hofaker complained, it would be, in effect, an unfunded mandate on the part of the county, similar to the unfunded mandates from the state that the county complains about.

Hofaker and other fire department personnel present also noted that the idea of fire departments communicating with police and other emergency responders directly is not in fact either necessary or in keeping with protocol; the protocol, and what they said works best, is to communicate to the various other emergency departments through their control centers. “They don’t talk directly to us and I don’t know that they ever will,” said Haas.

Boyar noted that this is properly a county, not town, matter and proposed that the board confer with the Highland Lake Fire Department and other town emergency responders, to come up with a uniform response and decide what kind of intervention with the county on behalf of all such responders might be appropriate.