Ice storm wreaked havoc on Kentucky communications

GREENVILLE, Ky. — In recent years, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has spent tens of millions of dollars to improve the emergency communications systems across Kentucky.

All it took was one ice storm last week to knock out electricity and phone service, isolating desperate communities in Western Kentucky.

In different counties, police and firefighters lost the radios connecting them to dispatch centers; county leaders couldn't use telephones to call the state capital for aid; and emergency officials scrambled to connect themselves to the outside world by any means available, relying on ham radio operators or relaying messages to friends in nearby Tennessee who remained online.

"We've learned a valuable lesson, should an earthquake ever come, that we're not ready," state Rep. Steven Rudy, R-West Paducah, said at the state Capitol on Tuesday. "It's obvious that, if our communications are down, we're going to have to be self-sufficient for several days."

The Kentucky Office of Homeland Security, which awards millions of dollars a year in federal grants so that cities and counties can buy communications equipment, said it was unaware of communications problems.

"We have not received one complaint about any failures," said Homeland Security spokesman Michael Embry.

The Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, which works with local emergency officials in the county seats, said it already had provided a satellite phone to each of its 10 regional man agers across the state.

But those regional managers can be responsible for a dozen or more counties, and in a disaster — such as an ice storm — roads might be impassible, so they can't travel. If individual counties want their own satellite phone, they need to buy one, said Emergency Management spokeswoman Monica French.

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