Now we're talking: Surplus gear benefits local departments

The Army Corps of Engineers transferred $70,000 worth of communication equipment to local agencies Thursday.

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Deborah Minteer, secretary of the 911 dispatch center, holds one of the portable radios the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers transferred to Walla Walla County for use by local emergency workers. (Sept. 23, 2010)

WALLA WALLA -- Talk is not cheap, especially when it comes to emergency communications.

That's why local officials were happy to take possession of a load of surplus, but still very usable, radio gear from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday.

Under a federal program, the Corps Walla Walla District office was able to transfer an estimated $70,000 worth of handheld and mobile radios and other transmitting equipment to the Walla Walla Police Department.

The equipment will be used "to fulfill unmet communication needs of law enforcement and other emergency services," said Steve Ruley, director of Walla Walla County 911 dispatch center.

The donated radio equipment became surplus because the Corps is upgrading its communications network nationwide, said Gina Baltrusch, Corps public affairs specialist.

Orin Thomas, the Corps property disposal technician who oversaw Thursday's transfer, said the transfer was a coordinated effort by the city Police Department, the Walla Walla District Office, the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane and the Washington state Law Enforcement Support Office.

It was carried out under the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows excess Department of Defense property to be transferred to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Thomas met with Ruley, Walla Walla Police Chief Chuck Fulton and Deborah Minteer, 911 dispatch center secretary at the Corps logistics building Thursday to load the radio gear into a heavy-duty pickup and two other vehicles for transport to town.

Ruley said the radios received Thursday will reprogrammed to work with existing equipment. It will also help the county meet new federal requirements to have its radios operate on narrower bandwidths by the start of 2013.

"The goal is to be interoperable in case of the big one," he said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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