Uniform radio system planned

Better emergency communications the statewide aim

July 11, 2008|By Jessica Anderson | Jessica Anderson,Sun Reporter

Firefighters, police officers and other emergency workers across Maryland will be able to communicate on a uniform radio system, improving their ability to react to everything from car crashes to terrorist attacks, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced yesterday.

O'Malley signed an executive order yesterday to establish a statewide communications system that will allow law enforcement and public safety personnel from different state, county and municipal agencies to use one emergency radio system. Incompatible radios from different city and county emergency responders hampered rescue attempts after the 9/11 attacks, and creating a uniform system has been a major focus of homeland security efforts ever since.

"Public safety is a priority," O'Malley said at a news conference yesterday. He said that improving communication will stop a "preventable tragedy."

"On the daily basis, you have a few different law enforcement agencies that are working currently on the same thing, looking for assistance, although they are using different radio systems," said Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, superintendent of the Maryland State Police. But "this system will tie them together so they can talk to each other."

The executive order called for the state to request proposals to build the system and established an executive committee to oversee its construction and operation. Officials said they don't know how much the system will cost, but it will be partly funded by a $22.9 million federal grant.

The project - which includes construction of 12 towers, laying fiber optic cable and connecting all of the state's 911 centers and hospitals - will take five to eight years, officials said.

Sheridan said that establishing a standardized system will allow agencies to quickly and efficiently get to the scene of an emergency. Responding to a car crash can involve a number of agencies, including the State Highway Administration, fire service, Emergency Medical Services and police.

"Conceivably you can have everyone not being able to talk to one another, and that's what's happening today," he said. "It slows down the process dramatically ."

Sheridan pointed to an incident in January involving Kelvin D. Poke, an inmate who escaped from correctional officers while being treated at Laurel Regional Hospital. Poke shot a motorist for his car and led police on an hours-long chase. Sheridan said that the improved communications system could have helped law enforcement capture him sooner.

Under the planned 700 MHz communication system, officials could learn about a nearby accident scene and aid victims more quickly. Sheridan said that a Howard County police officer who requested back-up could get assistance faster because state police would also be notified by the Howard County dispatcher.

Now, "if a Howard County police officer calls for assistance and there's a trooper a mile away, that trooper wouldn't know he's calling for assistance," Sheridan said.

jessica.anderson@baltsun.com

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