Legislative Committee Discusses Statewide 700 MHz Public Safety Radio System

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the State recently showcased the first phase of a new statewide interoperable radio system called Maryland FiRST.  This new System will provide for unprecedented interoperability, and once fully deployed, should allow users to communicate throughout the entire state without using patches, relays, or other stop-gap interoperability solutions.   During its September 19 meeting, the MACo Legislative Committee was briefed on this new system and the counties’ role by Clay Stamp, Emergency Services Director for Talbot County.

A document  provided by Ray Lehr, the Governor’s Communications Interoperability Director, provided an overview of the system and how it will be deployed across Maryland.  The system will be rolled out by region of the state, with all regions being connected in 2016.

Mr. Stamp spoke to the importance of this new System and why counties should be joining it.  The following is an excerpt from Mr. Stamp’s handout.

State agencies will not be the only ones using this new System – counties and local jurisdictions will also have the ability to join. In fact, Kent County is currently in the process of replacing its out-of-date emergency communications system with one that will be part of the statewide System. A number of other jurisdictions on Maryland’s Eastern Shore are considering joining the System in the future, as their current systems age and need replacement. As more counties and state agencies join the System, the System’s coverage area grows – allowing true interoperable communication in more places.

Public safety radio communication systems are expensive. Counties joining the Statewide System will enjoy the economic benefits that the increased economies of scale, centralized system core, and pre-existing assets bring. Joining the System will not be free for counties – they will still be responsible for deploying their individual piece of the network – which will require significant individual county investment. Joining the System, however, will likely allow counties to provide their first responders access to a System with a quality, scale, and level of interoperability, that no individual county could build on its own.

Mr. Stamp also spoke to the need for a comprehensive governance structure to determine how the assets, benefits, and costs of the System will be divided among the users.

Joining the System will place counties in a unique relationship with the State and its agencies. While they will have significant investment in their portion of the System, they will be relying on core resources shared among all the System’s users. From tower-sites to network centers, a shared System is just that – shared. Determining how exactly the assets, benefits, and costs of the System will be divided among the users will be difficult.

Furthermore, as the new System begins to incur upgrade and maintenance costs, an effective governance body will be needed to make critical funding decisions.

Legislation would be necessary to formalize this process.

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