$1 million grant for communications

The Confederated Tribes received a $1 million grant to upgrade the public safety radio network.

The project will improve the police and fire radio system on the reservation.

The grant, from the Department of Homeland Security, will also provide for construction of a telecommunications tower on the Mutton Mountains area of the reservation.

This is part of Homeland Security’s ongoing efforts to support state, local, tribal and territorial partners.

The total amount awarded to the Confederated Tribes is $1,069,200, through the Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program.

With the new Mutton Mountains tower, the grant will fund an upgrade of the existing two-way public safety radio network to a “simulcast” system.

Stan Suenaga, manager of the tribes’ Public Safety Branch, sponsored the grant request. He received a telephone call last week from Washington, D.C., letting him know of the award.

“It was great news for us, and a big vote of confidence,” Suenaga said. “We ended up getting a big chunk of the $10 million funding available in Indian County.

“It shows that FEMA is happy with how we’ve been systematically upgrading our communications capabilities over the years and that there is more work to be done.”

Suenaga also explained the impact of the “Simulcast” radio system funded by the grant: “This is a sophisticated technology that will allow our first responders to transmit and receive two-way radio communications automatically through the closest tower, rather than requiring them to manually switch between repeaters,” he said. “It will improve response time for the police and fire departments, which ultimately will provide better service to the tribal members living throughout the reservation.”

Dan Martinez, Fire and Safety chief, was also happy to hear of the grant award. “With a tower on Mutton Mountains, we will finally be able to get coverage down along the Deschutes River, where we have a lot of boating, fishing and rafting incidents,” Martinez said.

“It will also help our wild-land firefighters. Last month we had to put a firefighter at the top of Mutton Mountains to relay radio messages from crews fighting the fire along the Deschutes.”

Warm Springs tribal leaders have been working on improving telecommunications since 2002, when the Tribes first completed a telecommunications needs assessment.

That first assessment determined that telecommunications services were severely limited on the Warm Springs reservation. It also identified the Public Safety radio network as the top priority for improvement.

Since that time, the tribes have been working with consultants Adam Haas and Marsha Spellman of Converge Communications. They have secured grants that have funded the construction of new towers, upgrades to radio equipment, access to additional frequencies for the tribes’ departments, and essentially expanded and improved the network.

To date, this effort has resulted in a total of $3.8 million dollars in grant funding, including the latest grant award.

This past year, Converge Communications helped the Public Safety Branch to complete a new 2014 Public Safety Communications Plan.

This plan is part of a larger Telecommunications Strategic Plan that was approved by Tribal Council in early 2014. The funding received in this latest grant will be used as identified in the plans.

The Warm Springs Telecommunications Company launched in 2012.

The Telecom, and KWSO will be able to use the tower for additional equipment, and to expand the reach of the two tribal services.

The Telecom is a tribally-owned enterprise providing phone and internet services throughout the reservation.

The Telecom has been working closely with the Public Safety Branch to share communications resources to the benefit of all tribal members.

Jose Matanane, Telecom general manager, was pleased to hear about the funding for the Mutton Mountains communications tower.

“Yes, we will definitely want to have our wireless network on the new tower,” he said. “During the recent wildland fires, we provided phone and Wi-Fi service to the fire camps through our wireless network. This new tower will extend that capability, as well as help us reach tribal members who live at the edges of the reservation.”

The $1 million public safety communications grant to the tribes came from one of seven grant programs administered by Homeland Security and FEMA. A total of $10 million was made available to eligible tribal nations to implement preparedness initiatives.