Public Safety Communications: What is Maryland FiRST?

Interoperability Blog Series

Last month, MACo’s Legislative Committee adopted four legislative initiatives for the 2014 session of the General Assembly.  One of those initiatives seeks legislation to create a governance body for the new statewide public safety radio communications system, Maryland FiRST. In this blog series, we will provide background on the Maryland FiRST system, an explanation of how Maryland FiRST is important for counties, and why a co-operative governance body is needed for Maryland FiRST.  In this article, we will provide a background on the Maryland FiRST system including its definitional capabilities and an update on its development.

What is Maryland FiRST?

Maryland FiRST, the State’s new 700MHz public safety communications system, targets the problem of communicating across multiple agencies and levels governments—police, fire, and emergency management. 700MHz is the special radio frequency available for public safety communications, and offers excellent propagation characteristics, allowing signals to cover larger geographic areas and permeate infrastructure for strong in-building transmission. During 9/11 and other large scale emergencies, the safety and effectiveness of first responders was hampered by their inability to efficiently speak with one another.  Statewide “interoperability” will promote seamless communications during regional disasters that require state or federal aid, or even day-to-day emergencies that cross county lines.

Interoperability

The State’s Interoperability Program Management Office, a part of the Maryland Department of Information Technology, is responsible for building Maryland FiRST, to provide for statewide public safety interoperable voice communications.  As described by the Program Management Office,

Interoperability refers to the ability of emergency responders to work seamlessly with other systems or products without any special effort. Wireless communications interoperability specifically refers to the ability of emergency response officials to share information via voice and data signals on demand, in real time, when needed, and as authorized.

For more information, see the Statewide Interoperability Program Management Office.

Building Maryland FiRST

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Building Maryland FiRST is a multi-year, multi-million dollar project.  Started in 2012, the project’s completion deadline is 2017. When completed, the system’s worth is estimated at $400 million, according to State Interoperability Director Ray Lehr.

Central Maryland and the Eastern Shore of Maryland is now completed, and Kent County is currently operating on the Maryland FiRST system.  Kent County’s Emergency Services Director Wayne Darrell has reported that use of the system has been “incredible,” and the interoperable features of the system have already provided assistance during emergency transports to Cecil County and Deleware hospitals, and prisoner transport to Baltimore City.

For more information, see the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security website.

Upcoming Articles in this Blog Series:

  • Why is Maryland FiRST Important for Counties?
  • A Co-Operative Governance Body is Needed for Maryland FiRST
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