SOUTH SALT LAKE — Additional federal funding for the Valley Emergency Communications Center will provide a technological boost for emergency communications, whether it's during a major earthquake or a minor robbery.

The $1 million congressional appropriation announced last week will hasten the completion of an improved communications system. The system will allow every agency in the Salt Lake Valley to communicate, provide instant mug shots to police officers through their vehicle laptops and improve the routing of fire or paramedic rescue by sending the closest unit to a scene.

The money will also help complete the technological upgrades needed to get the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department into VECC, which currently handles the dispatch for all police and fire departments except for Salt Lake City and the county sheriff.

"With this grant, we can condense (the upgrades) into a short period of time," said David Stanley, Salt Lake County director of homeland security. "This will get us where we want to be."

The $1 million follows a previous $500,000 appropriation, announced in February. When completed, the upgrades will provide a boost for communications throughout the valley, during both big events and small accidents, Salt Lake County Fire Chief Don Berry said.

"Not only are we in a much better position during major disasters, we are better day-to-day," he said. "It's not something that will be left on the shelf until it is needed."

The money is part of a $3.5 billion homeland security appropriations bill approved by Congress, a much needed boost to local homeland security efforts, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said. At the same time, however, he expressed concern about the federal government funding some of these efforts by taking money from other law enforcement programs — the $1 million did not come from any of those programs — such as community policing.

"As we focus, at the federal level, we need to be sure we aren't robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said. "We have to make sure that good programs are maintained."

During a meeting with the Deseret News editorial board earlier Tuesday, Matheson echoed those concerns, and also worried that both the American people and congressional leaders are starting to lose track of homeland security efforts.

"I certainly don't think we are where we were at on Sept. 10 (2001) but I think we've got away from where we were on Sept. 12," Matheson said.

The biggest benefit of the money, and the subsequent improvements, will be the confidence that valley residents can have in the emergency services, Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman said.

"It is vital that all of the police and fire are able to talk to each other," she said. "That is all the citizens need to know — call 911 and help will be there."


Contributing: Amy Joi Bryson.

E-MAIL: jloftin@desnews.com