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Statewide, Washington County radio systems to be integrated

July 21, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- A recently announced plan to build a statewide radio system for police, firefighters and other emergency workers will not conflict with a similar project being constructed in Washington County, Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III said.

In fact, the two systems will integrate with each other and will share tower sites in Washington County, Kroboth said.

"We have been working with the state hand-in-hand on this," Kroboth said last Monday.

On July 10, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed an executive order to establish a statewide radio system that will allow public safety and emergency service personnel to talk to each other.

The system, which will be open to state, county and municipal agencies across Maryland, is to be built in phases and should be finished in the next five to eight years, according to a press release.

In the meantime, Washington County is nearing completion of its own $21.8 million radio communications system that will allow law enforcement and other public safety personnel here to communicate during emergencies.

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That system should be ready by spring 2009.

Although they will operate on different frequencies -- the county's will be around 450 MHz while the state will use the high end of the 700 MHz band -- the two systems are both digital and will be integrated through a central control system, Kroboth said.

"Frequency is irrelevant. With both systems, the user talks to a tower, which rebroadcasts the signal. Since the signal gets back to the tower, they are interconnected there," Kroboth said.

There will be 10 towers in Washington County. Most of those will include two sets of antennae -- one for the county's system and another for the state's.

Because they are sharing the sites, the state agreed to pay 60 percent of the development costs at the county's 10 tower sites, Kroboth said.

The state's communications system will be built in regions, and those regions will be activated as they are finished, according to the press release.

It is unclear at this point how the state will define those regions and which ones will be activated first.

Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties are working on an integrated, digital communications network that should be finished by the end of this year, Kroboth said.

That system will connect the three counties' 911 communication centers, where dispatchers will be able to connect two radio systems, Kroboth said.

The network will be especially helpful during emergencies such as large fires that occur on or near county lines.

The state is watching the development of that network as a kind of prototype for its statewide system, Kroboth said.

"It's the state's first step at looking at multicounty, interoperability systems. If it meets all the performance requirements, it will simply be folded into the state's system," Kroboth said.

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