Reno Safer Since 9/11 Officials Say

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Emergency responders in the Reno area say they are better prepared to handle widespread emergencies because of new measures and procedures installed after the terrorist attacks two years ago.

Law enforcement agencies are now equipped with a bomb-retrieving robot, an armored truck and a truck to handle chemical spills.

There is also new computer software designed to provide an early warning of bioterrorism attacks.

And a new radio system planned to be up and running this fall will allow police and firefighters in the Truckee Meadows to talk to each other in the field for the first time, using the same radio frequency.

Washoe County and Reno have spent nearly $40 million on major capital projects that were being planned years before the Sept. 11 attacks, officials said.

"It's day and night,"Assistant Reno Police Chief Jim Weston said of the changes.

Washoe County Sheriff Dennis Balaam agreed.

"Could we keep a 747 from flying into the Reno Hilton? Probably not any more today. But we could sure rally to address that."

Balaam noted that officers now routinely check key water, power, gas and communications facilities _ something they didn't do before.

Washoe County's new radio system represents a $16 million investment among many local agencies, including public safety, public works, health, forestry, utilities, the tribes, the airport and the school district.

The county built the towers and backbone for the system and provided police and fire radios at a cost of $10.5 million.

Reno police are scheduled to get their radios in October, and deputies will get theirs in November, said Tom Gadd, Washoe public works director. Sparks was the first to hook to the new system last spring. Reno police officers are now experimenting with the radios.

Natural disasters also have spurred changes.

After the New Year's Day flood in 1997, local officials agreed the region needed a new emergency operations and dispatch center, said Press Clewe, Washoe County emergency services manager.

Located in the basement of the downtown Reno fire station, the dispatch center came close to being flooded. Some dispatchers were moved to the county building and a mobile police command center to be safe.

The Reno dispatch center is scheduled to move onto the second floor of a new emergency operations building Sept. 23. It will handle emergency calls for Reno police, fire, the sheriff and others.

Sparks maintains its own dispatching system, which serves as a backup for the region.

Located on the $17.8 million public safety training center campus in the north Reno hills, the command post is located above the flood zone.

Since March, dispatchers for REMSA, the area's medical emergency operator, have been able to monitor 911 calls for patterns in illnesses as well as the location of the calls.

REMSA director Patrick Smith said the Reno system and one in Las Vegas are being linked with the help of the state health department to allow monitoring of the state's most populated areas.