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Colo. Didn't Factor Risk in Earmarking Grants

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Colorado officials have not considered risk when doling out grants for public-safety communications, leading to more money going to low-risk areas than to higher probability attack locations, according to an audit released Tuesday.

The report by the State Auditor s Office recommended the state create a process to better assess which areas need the funds. Department of Local Affairs Director Susan Kirkpatrick agreed with the suggestion and said such a process has begun.

While we have been very good at giving out money, the Department of Local Affairs has not used very sophisticated analysis or strategic thinking in regard to some of the grant programs we provide, said Kirkpatrick, who took over the department earlier this year.

Interoperable communications -- essentially, allowing local and state public-safety agencies to be able to talk to each other during an emergency -- have been a focus of homeland security spending in recent years.

About $135 million in state and federal money has been put toward improving communications systems, including the creation of a digital trunked radio system that links first responders covering 86 percent of Colorado.

But the department did not prioritize communications needs on the basis of risk when making grant distributions, the audit stated. As a result, those areas at medium risk level received $9.2 million in grant funds from 2004-06, while low-risk areas got $11.1 million.

Though the audit did not specify which risk level the Pikes Peak area falls under, Colorado Springs emergency management Director Bret Waters said he thinks the city could receive more help with its communications system if risk becomes a factor. Despite being near four major military bases, the city seems not to have gotten its fair share of homeland security dollars, he said.

I think it s just a logical approach to do that, Waters said of increased risk analysis. When you re looking at a huge investment of dollars into interoperable communications, we need a clear plan of why we re spending that money.

The recently hired state homeland security coordinator, Mason Whitney, is working to develop more tools to conduct risk-based analyses, Kirkpatrick said.

The audit also found the Department of Personnel and Administration, which oversees the state s 7,400-item inventory of digital trunked radios, had not kept constant track of whether the agencies that own those emergency-communications radios still had them in their possession.

But the DPA information technology division director, Todd Olson, said officials conduct a thorough inventory once a year and have the ability to cut off a radio if they find it s fallen into the hands of someone who should not have it.

CONTACT THE WRITER: (303) 837-0613 or ed.sealover@gazette.com

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