Albany city and school district officials are working together on a project to set up a secure radio channel for the two agencies to communicate in an emergency.
The city is applying for a grant through the United States Department of Homeland Security to pay for radios, antennas and other equipment to make the channel work. The application is due Jan. 19 and the city should hear back sometime late this fall.
Chuck Perino, emergency manager for the city of Albany, said the city probably will apply for about $100,000, although he's waiting for a firmer estimate from a wireless communication company before fine-tuning the request.
If the grant is received, the plan is to set up two-way communication between the city and the school district that can be used if phones and computers are down.
The idea is that if an earthquake, flood, chemical spill or other emergency cuts off communications in town, the city and school district can talk together about how each side might be able to help the other: providing buses for evacuation, say, or buildings for shelter.
Perino said if the grant is received, "We can start shopping for equipment and do planning for installing and setting up training for school district officials."
Antennas would be placed on top of each of the district's 26 buildings and a repeater location will be established on city property in North Albany — Perino did not have the exact location.
Radios would be placed in all 26 schools, with a base station and handheld portables for communication with the city on a secure channel, he said.
Greater Albany currently has some 9,500 students enrolled, about another 1,000 people working as teachers and staff, and several dozen parents and volunteers at the schools at any given time, Superintendent Jim Golden said. That's about a fifth of the city's total population, so it makes sense to prepare staging areas for the rest of the community using school district resources.
Linn County tried several years ago to put a similar system in place to improve communication between law enforcement agencies, but it failed for lack of funding.
Perino said if the grant isn't received, it's possible the two agencies will try again next year.
"My thinking is if for whatever reason, if we're not selected, we'd learn from our mistake and add to that again," he said.