Emergency communications to change

Brandon Taylor, director of the Huntington County Emergency Management Agency, holds of the new 800 megahertz radios now being used by emergency responders throughout Huntington County.
Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Feb. 12, 2009.

That police scanner in the kitchen will soon become obsolete.

Local officials are continuing to make progress in upgrading equipment that will provide all emergency departments in the county the greatest ability to communicate in the event of a crisis.

That new equipment operates on a frequency that is not compatible with the old-style police scanners.

A state grant in the amount of $147,000 recently allowed for the purchase of an additional 71 portable radios that operate on the 800 megahertz frequency, explains Brandon Taylor, director of Huntington County's Emergency Management Agency. The addition of those radios in November means nearly all emergency departments in the county have the more powerful and reliable equipment, he says.

"The sheriff's department has 18 mobiles mounted in the cars and 19 portables (to carry)," Taylor notes. "The town marshals all have three mobiles and four portables, and all of the county's fire departments have at least nine handheld radios. The city (police department) has enough radios so that all the officers on duty have one."
Huntington County Rescue also has some of the 800 MHz radios.

In addition, Huntington County EMA is completely outfitted with the 800 MHz equipment.

"Our department is on it full time," Taylor says, noting that besides the handheld radios, both his car and that of Assistant Director Brian Topp have mobile units installed.

"All of our volunteers have one, plus we have a few extras in case something big happens in the county."

The county's EMA has 25 volunteers.

Huntington County Commissioners' President Tom Wall says he is happy about the county's progress in moving toward the 800 MHz system but adds there have been questions throughout the county regarding the use of older equipment.

"There's been a lot of confusion and concern about the old radios," he says, adding people are wondering whether or not calls that come in from the old radios will be heard.
"They (dispatch) are monitoring the old system and calls will get answered," he assures county residents.

The 800 MHz system will align the county's emergency departments with what the state is doing, Taylor says, adding the county still needs one more piece to the puzzle before the system is completely ready to go. Mobile radios must be mounted to the dispatch console to complete the transition.

"Once they get those in the dispatch, all law enforcement in the county can be on the system," he says.

Taylor recently applied for more grant money to help upgrade dispatch and area volunteer fire departments.

"I have two more grants out - one for $35,000 to update the dispatch at the sheriff's department and the other for $88,000 to try to get four mobiles for every fire department," Taylor notes. "We're also going to do a regional grant through FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) so that we can get enough 800 MHz radios so that every fire department can go to the system full time," he adds.

City and county officials have been working to establish a combined city/county dispatch center, so only the consoles at the sheriff's department will be upgraded to the 800 MHz system, Taylor says.

"We're hoping to consolidate, so we held off on doing both dispatch centers to save some money," he adds.
The state has been moving toward the 800 MHz system - called the SAFE-T (safety acting for everyone - together) network - for several years and most state agencies are now operating on it full time, Taylor says. The state has also put up equipment necessary for the system to become operational.

"The Indiana Department of Homeland Security put up the towers," he says, adding the Integrated Public Safety Commission oversees the system. "The Indiana State Police has been on the system full time for a year or two now" and other state agencies - the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Law Enforcement - are also using the 800 MHz system. "Basically, all state agencies are on the system now."

County residents who enjoy listening to home scanners will be able to hear traffic on the old radios for some time, but eventually they'll have to make an investment in new equipment if they want to continue keeping tabs on the county's emergency departments.

Once the county switches over completely to the 800 MHz system, "they (residents) won't be able to hear the traffic unless they go out and buy a new, expensive scanner," Taylor says.

He estimates the cost of the new scanners to be around $500.