As the nation paused to remember the victims and heroes of Sept. 11, 2001, state and federal officials on Monday unveiled a new emergency communications pilot project that will allow first responders to instant message other agencies throughout the commonwealth.

The $26 million system is being tested by Somerset Police Department and Pul-aski County Sheriff’s Department, but the software is expected to be available to all emergency first res-ponders in the immediate future.

The first responder system, called “KYWINS,” is part of an initiative to better equip police officers and firefighters — those on the front lines in the war on terrorism — in the aftermath of 9-11. Communication between responding agencies was almost non-existent on that fateful date in 2001. Officials don’t want to make that same mistake five years later on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

“The real heroes are ... the firefighters and police officers who are charged with protecting us from harm,” U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, R-Somerset, said at a commemoration ceremony at the Center for Rural Development.

Rogers, chairman of a House subcommittee on Homeland Security, said first responders dispatched to the scene on 9-11 did not have the proper equipment to adequately communicate with each other or other agencies.

As a result, the Somerset lawmaker said the breakdown in communication was “disastrous.” He saw a need for change and has worked hard to provide funding for the infrastructure that will allow emergency responders to better do their jobs and keep the public safer.

KYWINS relies on a state-run wireless network that allows officers to communicate via radio and instant message from remote areas in Kentucky.

Lt. Allan Coomer, public information officer, said the Somerset Police Department had the computers but didn’t have the software to log on to the system. Seven city officers and eight to 10 deputies with the sheriff’s department are involved in the pilot program. However, before long, Coomer expects all local responders to be connected to KYWINS.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who joined Rogers and a host of other state and federal dignitaries for the announcement, said the new program “will ensure our first responders have the tools and resources they need to communicate effectively while they protect Kentucky citizens.”

Several weeks after the terrorist attacks, Fletcher paid a midnight visit to Ground Zero, the former site of World Trade Center. The governor recalled that a firefighter sifting through the rubble told him, “Don’t you ever let them forget what happened here.”

Fletcher said he watched events unfold on television while sitting in a restaurant waiting for his wife’s plane to land. In the days that followed, he said Americans stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a show of solidarity that transcended political barriers.

“The terrorists never thought we would come together with a unified response,” Fletcher said.

Rogers watched the terrorist attack on the Pentagon from his Washington apartment. Before it had been confirmed as an act of terrorism, the Somerset congressman said he immediately thought America is at war.

“We are at war. We have an enemy. It is called al-Qaeda,” he said. “For those who ignorantly say ‘We should not be at war’, let me take them to Ground Zero.”

Rogers said the nation has made great strides since the terrorist attacks, but it is an overwhelming task to protect America’s borders, skies and seaports.

Since 9-11, the subcommittee has issued $217.5 billion in homeland security spending, including $117 billion to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security budget.

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