APWA Board member talks interoperability with Congress

Becky Wickstrom
Manager of Media Affairs
APWA Washington office

Hoping to use lessons learned from the hurricane-ravaged Gulf States to better prepare for the next catastrophe, Congress is examining the role of communications interoperability during disasters. In February APWA participated in a congressional hearing before the U.S. House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Science and Technology. At the invitation of Subcommittee Chairman David Reichert (R-Wash), Diane Linderman, APWA Director-at-Large for Public Works Leadership and Management, joined other first responders to testify about "The State of Interoperable Communications: Perspectives from the Field."

Linderman, Director of Urban Infrastructure and Development for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., of Richmond, Va., and former Public Works Director for the City of Richmond, Va., discussed interoperability from a public works perspective and the need for coordinated communication among all first responders.

"APWA has been and will continue to be an advocate for the development of policies which coordinate incident response across multi-disciplinary agencies in a way that saves lives and restores communities, property and critical lifelines," said Linderman during her testimony.

Highlighting her experience with a coordinated response among public works, recreation and parks, fire and law enforcement officials after Hurricane Isabel struck Richmond in September 2003, Linderman acknowledged system redundancies that kept communication systems operational during and after the storm.

"The ability of fire and police to talk to the men and women clearing the streets of debris was necessary to effectively respond to calls for service, minimizing the impact on health and safety of Richmond's citizens," she said.

The subcommittee is evaluating communications during disasters and the state of interoperability among agencies. Chairman Reichert called for bipartisanship while examining the best ways to address the problems faced by first responders.

"Interoperability is a bipartisan issue," said Chairman Reichert as he opened the hearing for questions. "It is our intention in this subcommittee to get as much perspective on this issue as we can to raise the level of awareness."

Additional panelists included Casey L. Perry, Trooper, Wisconsin State Patrol, and Chairman of the National Troopers Coalition; Tim Bradley, Senior Deputy State Fire Marshall, North Carolina Office of State Fire Marshals, and member of the National Volunteer Fire Council; William Moroney; President and Chief Executive Officer, United Telecom Council; and William W. Pinsky, Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, Ochsner Clinic Foundation, Committee on Health Professionals and representative to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education for the American Hospital Association.

Becky Wickstrom, APWA Manager of Media Affairs, can be reached at (202) 218-6736 or bwickstrom@apwa.net.

Wastewater official briefs congressional staffers about wastewater
infrastructure funding

Wastewater management is arguably the most basic public works service and most essential for maintaining public health. Since underground sewer systems are out of sight, however, they are often out of mind until problems arise. During the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, neglected infrastructure across America caused nasty problems, reaching epidemic proportions by the mid-1980s. Aside from the public health concerns, widespread pollution, sewer backups and overflows, enormous repair costs and facilities expansion forced states to seek outside financing for projects.

APWA Government Affairs Committee member Kenneth Hill, Planning and Coordination Manager for the City of Tulsa, Okla., Public Works Department faced the same problems in Tulsa. He discussed the role of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) in helping the city comply with requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA) on February 21 during a congressional staff briefing sponsored by APWA.

In 1985, when Tulsa's wastewater systems faced widespread overflow and pollution problems, the city was hit with state and federal orders to eliminate the problems. The cost to meet the obligations was unimaginable so the city turned to the CWSRF to help pay for improvements. According to Hill, the CWSRF program is Oklahoma's largest self-supporting wastewater financing effort, providing low-interest loans to communities in need.

"The CWSRF saved Tulsa millions of dollars in interest," said Hill. "The program is critical to meeting the needs of our nation and its aging infrastructure. Our goal is to ultimately get out of debt, but the CWSRF funds helped us complete mandatory projects without relying on the open market to raise the needed revenue."

The APWA Congressional Briefings are one part of an awareness campaign to provide congressional staff with information about the role and needs of public works and infrastructure in local communities. APWA member experts brief staffers about issues ranging from transportation funding to emergency preparedness and clean water.

Contributed by Becky Wickstrom, APWA Manager of Media Affairs, who can be reached at (202) 218-6736 or bwickstrom@apwa.net.