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VITEMA Hazard Warning System Improving

The V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency can now directly communicate by phone, radio, Internet and video conference with FEMA’s main emergency operating center in Virginia, and any other FEMA emergency operating center, VITEMA Executive Director Elton Lewis told the Senate during budget hearings Wednesday.

Lewis said VITEMA fortified its communications capability by installing deployable satellite dishes at each of its emergency centers that can act as backup if the primary communication lines are down.

VITEMA also now has deployable satellite dishes to shore up the V.I. Alert mass alert system to get the message out if phone and internet go down during an emergency.

"If all else fails, our last resort for communications is the territory’s ham radio operators," Lewis said, explaining that VITEMA coordinates with the area’s ham radio operators in advance of hurricane season every year.

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Right now, there are 10 sirens installed as part of the All–Hazards Siren Warning System, which provides tone and voice messages in the event there is an imminent threat to public safety. By summer of 2013, VITEMA will have completed installation of 14 more sirens, boosting the reach of the warning system, he said.

All of the locations can be viewed at the VITEMA website, www.VITEMA.gov, which also has regular weather updates and preparedness information, Lewis said.

Lewis was before the Finance Committee to discuss the agency’s local budget appropriation. The agency coordinates all the territory’s first responders, from police to the National Guard, in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.

This year, VITEMA’s total projected budget, including both federal funding and local funding recommended in Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s 2013 budget proposal, comes to $8.5 million – a reduction of $1.9 million from its 2012 budget.

Some $4.4 million would come from the General Fund – half a million dollars less than last year. Of that $2.3 million is for wages and salaries, $905,000 for benefits, $620,000 for other services and $489,000 for utilities.

Federal grants bring VITEMA another $2.3 million, of which $750,000 is “pass through” funds for projects under Repetitive Flood Claims/Severe Repetitive Loss Grants program.

After pass-throughs are accounted for, VITEMA has $5.9 million in total operating funds for Fiscal Year 2012-13, Lewis said. It also has $1.8 million coming from the Miscellaneous Appropriations section of the budget, of which $345,000 are sub-grants to the various Rescue Organizations on each island.

VITEMA has 77 funded positions, with 60 paid by local funds and 17 that are federally funded. Of the 60 funded locally, 42 are 911 emergency call center positions, with 20 on St. Croix and 22 on St. Thomas, he said.

No votes were taken at the information gathering hearing of the Finance Committee.

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