As reported by the Gazette, the State recently showcased the first phase of a new statewide interoperable radio system called Maryland FiRST. Funding for the second phase of the project was recently approved by the Board of Public Works and the system is expected to be fully operational in FY 2016.
After radio communication problems between New York City police, fire and other agencies were highlighted during the terrorist attack, the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Homeland Security began urging all public safety agencies to move to 700 MHz and 800 MHz coordinated frequencies, said Ray Lehr, director of Maryland’s Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee.
The new system not only will allow government agencies from police to public works to communicate during large-scale emergencies like terrorist attacks and natural disasters, but also will help in situations like long-distance police chases, when officers might previously have lost radio contact, Lehr said.
The Maryland Transportation Authority, Maryland State Police and Kent County are connected to Maryland FiRST now. The entire first phase, which will provide coverage in central Maryland and the Interstate 95 corridor, an area that covers one-third of the state’s population and two-thirds of the state’s critical infrastructure, will be fully operational by the end of 2012.
The second phase will add Eastern Shore agencies, said Clarence Jewell, a member of the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee.
MACo adopted the connectivity and interoperability of public safety communications as one of its legislative initiatives in 2004. The Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee was appointed in 2008 to oversee the development of a statewide communications system.
From MACo’s 2004 Initiatives:
Public Safety Communications – Connectivity and Interoperability – State and local public safety agencies employ communications systems to effectively coordinate their efforts, both on an ongoing basis and during critical incidents. In many cases, these communications systems are dated, and not cross-compatible among agencies and jurisdictions. The state must partner with local jurisdictions implementing a system replacement or upgrade– combining efforts to upgrade the state coverage in the same region, and saving costs to both parties. Eventually, through coordinated replacements, the state/local partnerships will yield a “backbone” sufficient to play host to a fully interoperable system of public safety communications, benefiting all agencies and the public they serve. The State should establish public safety interoperability as a priority for its homeland security distributions from the federal government.