A panel of county public safety experts testified Thursday in support of legislation to create a Radio Control Board to manage and oversee the MD FiRST interoperable radio system. The Radio Control Board will be made up of state and local representatives of MD FiRST users. HB308 incorporates the interests set forth in MACo’s public safety initiative, including recognizing county infrastructure contributions and interest in joining the system.
Thursday was the first hearing of the bill in committee. Testifying on the bill were Clay Stamp, member of the Eastern Shore Communications Alliance, Wayne Darrell, Director of Kent County Emergency Services, and Wayne McBride, Chief of Public Safety Communications in Prince George’s County. In addition to those testifying, several counties and statewide public safety associations submitted letters in support of the legislation.
Director Stamp spoke of how the MD FiRST system is a statewide system, in the sense of a small ‘s,’ it is not a State project alone – rather a partnership between local and state governments. The partnership, as Stamp described began years ago,
“We [the local government] needed to build a tower. . . we had the land, the State had money for the tower, we bought the microwave, and they agreed to maintain it, if you mirror that arrangement throughout Maryland, we had the building of an infrastructure over the last ten years . . . The benefit in joining a statewide radio system little ‘s’ is is that you avoid duplication and enhance interoperablity.”
Director Darrell spoke about the positive experience of Kent County as the first County operating primarily on the MD FiRST System,
“We have had a year of public safety communications experience on the system and our experience has been excellent. The Maryland FiRST system allows all of law enforcement in Kent County and surrounding counties to respond to critical incidents with the ability to communicate State Trooper to County Deputy to Town Officer on the same system using their handheld portable radio.
On January 9 at 12:55 a.m. Kent County volunteer fire units responded to an apartment building fire in the town of Betterton. Due to the intensity of the fire and extreme cold temperatures, units from 6 counties including 2 Delaware counties responded to assist. The Maryland FiRST system allowed for incident command to have communications interoperability with those neighboring county units on 4 different radio systems. This type of interoperability was not possible in Kent County before Maryland FiRST.”
Chief McBride described the need for the establishment of the Radio Control Board to address infrastructure sharing concerns in Prince George’s County,
“We are going to take our infrastructure and allow the State to operate on it just as the State is allowing other smaller counties to operate on it. The governance board is what we endorse and what we need to protect the radio network that have built in Prince George’s County and the other counties that want to come in and use it. . .
We have never had the opportunity, at not much additional cost, for a law enforcement officer in Prince George’s County who is doing a narcotics operation to continue that operation north of Baltimore City or one of the other western counties . . . We now have that and the only way that we have that is the State of Maryland’s Radio Network — the only way we can be successful at it, is we have this governance board, similar to the Emergency Number Systems Board of the 9-1-1 system. We have to make decisions, we have to make them together. “
MACo was very pleased that the Maryland Municipal League (MML) also entered testimony in support of the bill. On February 18, the Senate Finance Committee will hold its hearing on the crossfile of the radio legislation – SB338. To watch the testimony, click here, the local panel begins at 29 minutes.