First responders in Pr. George's get a radio upgrade

House Majority leader Steny Hoyer joins Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson, Police Chief Roberto Hylton and other public safety officials to unveil a new $80 million communications system.
By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Officials in Prince George's County unveiled a $76 million public safety communications system Monday that they say will eliminate radio dead spots in the county and make it easy for police and fire agencies from different jurisdictions to talk.

The upgrade, paid for with county tax dollars and $14.9 million in federal funds, includes 21 new radio towers and new radios for police officers, firefighters and emergency medical responders, officials said. It also creates a network for emergency responders to communicate, using the analog TV airwaves that were freed up when Congress mandated television's digital transition.

"This is big for Prince George's County," said Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton, one of several county officials who spoke at a news conference announcing the upgrade. "That means that one of my officers can travel anywhere in Prince George's County and have reliable communication back to headquarters."

Although the infrastructure is in place for the new system, it will not be completely rolled out until the end of 2010, officials said. That's when the county's new 911 center is expected to open and the fire department will join the new network. Meanwhile, officials said, police and emergency responders will be trained to use the new technology, which will be patched into the old system.

Vernon Herron, the county director of homeland security, said the upgrade ensures that the county is no longer "the hole in the doughnut" of the region's emergency communication system. Previously, he said, emergency responders in Prince George's could not communicate with those in Montgomery because the radio systems are different. Fixing that and radio dead spots, he said, is worth the $76 million cost.

"What price do you put on the lives of the men and women who keep our county safe?" Herron asked.

The new system also gives the county mapping technology to track the locations of emergency responders in their vehicles. Herron said it will be used to determine who is in the best position to respond to an emergency, not to keep tabs on employees.

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