Four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the coast and cut communications between officials and first responders, Gov. Haley Barbour demonstrated a new $160 million wireless communications network.
In less than one minute, Barbour spoke with contacts all over south Mississippi, including the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center in Pascagoula, the state Department of Public Safety in Jackson, and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources on duty in the Gulf of Mexico, among others.
Holding the handheld communication unit to his mouth, Barbour smiled as each department took only seconds to answer his call.
“We’ve got a system here that’s going to save lives and protect property,” he told those gathered Saturday afternoon at the National Guard Headquarters in Gulfport, which will serve as the state’s forward operations center during an emergency.
“We learned some lessons during the storm,” he said.
The second phase will place 52 towers in central Mississippi, and the third phase will include 47 in the northern portions of the state.
“We built it here first for the obvious reasons,” Barbour said, but noted central and north areas require a communication system for tornado and earthquake threats, among others.
Barbour said the state fought for three years to get the Stafford Act, the federal law for disaster assistance, to allow money to be spent on communication systems.