DHS buys radios for search and rescue

FEMA's National Urban Search and Rescue Response System

The Homeland Security Department will buy $1.2 million worth of software-programmable, digital portable radios for the nation's urban search and rescue teams.

EF Johnson Co., a subsidiary of EFJ Inc., will supply about 400 land mobile radios with accessories to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's 28 urban search and rescue teams, which are comprised of specially trained firefighters, emergency managers, engineers, medical professionals and canine handler teams from around the country.

To promote interoperability, FEMA will be using radios that adhere to Project 25 standards for communicating over a wireless network, said Jim Ridgell, EF Johnson's vice president of federal business.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, Project 25-compliant radios were made by only a few companies, including EF Johnson and Motorola Inc., Ridgell said. Since then, at least a dozen or so followed suit because more federal agencies, such as FEMA, require it, he said.

Interoperability has become a major issue nationally, and Ridgell said he sees this contract as a step in that direction. "This is kind of an indication — to me anyway — that money is starting to flow from the federal government to the various state and local organizations," he said.

On the state and local levels, although several agencies support and want Project 25-compliant radios, funding is an issue. Many law enforcement and first responder groups are strapped for cash and want federal assistance.

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