Maryland patching safety nets

State to pilot interoperable voice and wireless data systems to help emergency personnel across jurisdictions

Addressing the lack of interoperability among firefighters, police and emergency medical personnel, the Maryland state government is planning to install voice and data communications systems that would help such personnel talk with one other across jurisdictions.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who announced the pilot project Nov. 16, said a $400,000 grant from the Governor's Office of Crime and Control and Prevention would pay for them.

"The most critical issue from an operations perspective as critical incidents occur is the need to communicate," said Rob Weinhold, director of public and governmental affairs for the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention (www.goccp.org). "Without effective communication, the critical incidents won't be managed efficiently and public safety is adversely affected."

Historically, he said public safety agencies and other first responders had been limited in their ability to work together in terms of communication "at scenes like natural disaster, search and rescue operations or...a terrorist incident. "In essence, what would happen is the agencies would be on different frequencies, and there was no way to patch them together so there was no continuity in timely and accurate information," he said.

The voice system, which will be implemented in nine months, will provide coverage in most of central Maryland, he said, in an area stretching from the Eastern Shore to west of Frederick County and from the Washington, D.C., border to the Pennsylvania border.

The system is a patching network where up to five jurisdictions — for example, local, federal and military agencies — could be patched together with one another so there is "fluid communication," Weinhold said.

He said deployment of the ACU-1000 cross-band radio connector devices will begin this month and go through several phases, including design, installation, training and then evaluation for performance. In case of a critical event during the interim, the state police have a mobile command post to facilitate voice interoperability, but it would be limited in scope, Weinhold said.

The wireless data system, provided Aether Systems Inc., will be implemented in 90 days. Weinhold said 100 of the company's PocketBlue handheld computers containing wireless modems will be distributed. Users will be able to access the Maryland Interagency Law Enforcement System database as well as the FBI's National Crime Information Center database. The system also will enable users to send messages within and outside their own agencies as well as record suspicious persons or vehicles and circumstances.

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