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Morrow hosts first of three roundtable meetings

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

This summer, the Morrow Fire Department will be one of the first fire departments in Georgia to receive a state-of-the-art accountability system. The program will be able to track the location and movement of firefighters, wherever they are deployed.

Residents learned about the new system during a Community Roundtable Meeting held by the City of Morrow Thursday night.

Morrow residents had a chance during the session at the Morrow Conference Center to interact with city officials, and they got a progress report on city activities and initiatives.

At the roundtable, city officials outlined their latest grants, construction projects and community efforts, and fielded questions.

Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady said the city will host two additional meetings at the conference center -- on April 22 at 6 p.m., and on May 6 at 8:30 a.m. He said the city has hosted such informal meetings annually for nearly a decade, to familiarize citizens with the city and its officials.

"We try to tell them where we've been in the past few months, what we are up to right now, and what's on the horizon," Eady said. "We do this to educate and inform the citizens. They are more likely to call us when they can see our faces ... the citizens are [then] more comfortable with calling us for something good or bad."

Information presented at the meeting covered a wide range of topics.

Morrow Director of Communications and Technology Anou Sothsavath said that last year, the city answered 65,531 emergency calls, 98 percent of them in under 10 seconds. Within the past year, he said, the city also started two new programs, including a Wake Up Call Program, in which 911 dispatchers check on elderly residents on a daily basis, and a Child Fingerprint Identification Program, in which parents are able to receive kits to store their children's hair and fingerprint samples in the case of an emergency.

"With the Wake Up Call Program, we typically have been contacting residents between 8 a.m., and 10 a.m.," Sothsavath said. "Most of these people are elderly and don't have close relatives nearby. We generally check on their well-being. We have about five residents who use it right now, but we're hoping to get that out more. Fortunately, we have not had to use the fingerprinting kits yet."

Morrow Fire Chief Mark Herendeen said that in November, the city received a $56,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to buy the new firefighter accountability system. He said the tracking technology, which thus far has not been used in the state, will be implemented at the department this summer.

"It will tell us exactly who they are, what training do they have, are they on the scene ... if they have stopped moving for a certain amount of time, it will tell us. It is a system where I can physically assign them a task, I can keep them in groups, [and] I can know where they are at times," Herendeen said. He said devices associated with the accountability system would be sown into the suits of all of the department's firefighters when implemented.

Morrow Police Chief Jeff Baker said from 2008 to 2009, armed robberies in the city had gone done 34 percent, residential burglaries had decreased 15 percent, stolen vehicles had gone down 12 percent, and recovered vehicles had gone up 33 percent.

While commercial burglaries had gone up 25 percent, he said that in August, the department received a $300,000 Department of Justice grant for two officers to staff a full-time Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS) Unit. He said the officers are being tasked to reach out to businesses, the elderly and neighborhood watch groups and help conduct crime prevention talks and solve identify theft.

"That grant pays for their salary and benefits over the three years of the grant," Baker said. "It helps us because my main goal is not to be reactive in what we are doing."

Morrow Grants and Zoning Administrator Sylvia Redic said the Community Roundtable Meetings will help the city by making citizens more comfortable approaching the city with solutions.

"The more often we are in the company of the citizens, the more comfortable they will be coming to us when they are angry about something, when they can help us with something, [and] when we need to know something," she said. "Knowledge is power."

For more information about the roundtable meetings, call (770) 961-4002.