Harford closer to overhaul of emergency radio system

Equipment, technology among improvements


Harford County is moving closer to replacing a dated emergency radio system with an $8.5 million allocation in the county's 2002-2003 budget - the second installment in a $23 million overhaul that will bring more frequencies and new equipment to the county's fire and police services.

"It's a costly project, but it's a major project for fire and police to be able to communicate," County Executive James M. Harkins said.

The current system, which was installed in 1983, puts the emergency services in touch with each other, but has only two dispatch channels for fire and two for police. "The system is very much overloaded," said John J. O'Neill, the county's director of administration. "They tend to talk over each other sometimes."

The new system offers three key areas of improvement, said Ernest Crist, director of the county's Emergency Operations Center. Radio reception will improve, greatly minimizing "dead spots" in the communications system.

An increase in frequencies will enable the system to handle 50 percent more communications simultaneously. Crist said that no matter the type of emergency, responders "need a lot of channel capacity for public safety operations. We need that desperately."

Better technology will let dispatchers pinpoint the location of emergency vehicles; give police, fire and ambulance personnel one-touch distress call capability on radios; and allow computer use in emergency vehicles, Crist said.

The system should be ready for testing in two years and should be up and running in about three, Crist said.

The $8.5 million capital expenditure is part of the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that was approved last week by the County Council. The total budget of $498.4 million is made up of a $407.4 million operating budget and $91 million in capital spending, O'Neill said.

The radio system expense is being spread over three years. This year's allocation was $10 million; $4.5 million is planned for the 2003-2004 budget, O'Neill said.

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