He Can Hear Them Now
Upgraded radio systems equal better communication between different agencies, officer

Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Sept. 17, 2006 -- In the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks and hurricanes Katrina and Rita, emergency response agencies such as fire, police and emergency medical services identified shortcomings in radio communications systems.

Over the past year, Hopkins County has upgraded its communications center in an effort to make it easier for these agencies to communicate with each other in the event of a major disaster or events involving a number of agencies, according to Hopkins County Communications Supervisor Ron Lowrie.

"We have the capability of connecting our agency with any agency around us, and we can connect multiple agencies," Lowrie said. "We got this after Hurricane Katrina and Louisiana was in such a bad situation."

This type of communications technology has been in existence for about two years. The county's communications system has been in place for about a year and was purchased through grants from the Department of Homeland Security.

Lowrie said the equipment can be used in any situation to let officers from different agencies to communicate. A recent example was the attempted bank robbery in Cooper on Aug. 30.

"My officers were headed north on State Highway 19 and Delta County was coming south, so I felt the need to put Delta County and Hopkins County together so they could all talk to each other," Lowrie said. "It made it easy for them to be able to talk to each other and not monitor other channels."

The system was used during the wildfires around Campbell last year as well as when deputies are involved in transporting prisoners from one county to another.

"It was one of those situations where it just made it easier to communicate with another agency just using their handheld radio," he said. "It is a system that, before we had it, we didn't know how much it would mean to us"

While the communications system at the sheriff's office is installed in the communications center, Sulphur Springs Police Department has a similar system that is portable and can be operated from a mobile communications center at the scene of a disaster.

Lt. Rex Morgan, who serves as the city's emergency management coordinator, said his portable unit has capabilities to connect with other emergency response agencies as well as storm spotters using amateur radio equipment. Also, in emergency situations, Morgan's equippment can connect with aircraft radios, citizens band radios and even Family Radio Service walkie-talkies, enabling direct communication with law enforcement agencies.

At the sheriff's office, grants are being sought to expand the system and add telephone connections to the list of capabilities. Being able to interface between the radio and telephone will greatly expand the ability of supervisors to have direct contact with officers on the scene of an event.

Both the city and county systems also have the capability to connect with the Internet, among other additional communications abilities.

Coincidentally, the city of Dallas introduced a similar system on Friday that will provide a communications bridge between all agencies in that city.

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