Macomb: Emergency radio funds in federal budget

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Silent Key
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Sep 20, 2006
S.E. Michigan
Emergency radio funds in federal budget

Outdated system inhibits 'first responders' from communicating
By Chad Selweski
Macomb Daily Staff Writer

A $2 million allocation of federal funds may allow Macomb County to complete a state-of-the-art radio system for all 61 police, fire and EMS agencies by the end of the year.
The 6-year effort to upgrade the emergency radio system will end a lingering situation that prevents "first responders" from communicating with each other at the scene of a crime, accident or fire.

The 2008 federal budget provides U.S. Department of Justice funding for Macomb's 800-megahertz radio network and applications have been submitted to complete the transaction.

"That would be our hope, to have this completed by the end of this year," said Vicki Wolber, acting director of the county Emergency and Communications Department.

The new funding includes $666,000 for Wolber's department, $982,000 for south Macomb cities, and $350,000 for north Macomb townships. The plans for 2008 call for getting all departments on the system and to add an 18th radio channel at a cost of $360,000.The system consists of nine communications towers and 3,000 two-way radios that are mounted in vehicles or are the hand-held variety, each costing about $2,500.

Wolber said a large chunk of the money, approximately $530,000, will go to the Clinton Township Police Department. That department has lagged behind others in implementing the new high-tech system.

Most of the other public safety departments across the county will receive not much more than $20,000 to $25,000 to complete their conversion to the new network.

After Macomb voters soundly rejected a telephone tax to pay for the upgrade in 2002, the county sold $13 million worth of bonds to help pay for the project.

Once a federal grant agreement is secured in the coming months and approved by the Board of Commissioners, the $2 million will be available.

The federal funding was arranged through a team effort by Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow and Reps. Sander Levin and Candice Miller.

The new system ends an archaic approach in which first responders could not talk to each other. It also eliminates communication "dead spots" in some sections of the county and improves the ability of police and firefighters to talk via portable radios while inside buildings.

The new radio network will prove especially valuable, officials say, in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. But Wolber said the benefits will be realized on a day-to-day basis, even in the event of a serious auto accident or multiple-alarm fire.

"It makes a difference for some departments on normal, everyday runs," she said. "Now, they will all share the same radio system."

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