Communication: The Lifeline for First Responders

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By: Mark Ihrig, Director of Boone County Emergency Management & Co-Chair of the Public Safety Communications Steering Committee


First responders rely on the county’s communications system for their personal safety and to protect the public. This includes the system that provides the means to communicate and the 911 Dispatch Center operation which collects information, provides data and supplies the hardware that supports the mission of our law enforcement departments, fire service and EMS agencies. Almost two years ago, first responders met with members of the Fiscal Court to discuss deficiencies in the outdated UHF/VHF radio system and the need for enhanced communications across the board. Judge/Executive Moore and the County Commissioners committed to a study of the system and appointed a steering committee to oversee the project comprised of representatives from three fire districts, the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, Florence Police, Florence Fire, Emergency Management, 911 Dispatch and county administration.

The steering committee has presented its findings and recommendations to the Court which include the need to enhance the emergency communication system and ensure that it can operate effectively. The results of an independent consultant’s review of our current communications system identified several areas of concern such as the system’s age, significant coverage gaps in parts of the county, inability to penetrate large buildings, the antiquated technology being utilized, and the inability for law enforcement and fire service to speak to each other directly. Boone County continues to experience population growth resulting in more and more need for law enforcement, fire and EMS responses. Due to the system’s limitations and the growing needs of Boone County, the committee identified the system upgrade and communications support as critical to public safety.

 “The ability for agencies to protect the public and our first responders is tied directly to their ability to communicate effectively. We owe it to our community and our emergency personnel to have a system and support structure that provides modern technology and adequate support from the 911 dispatch center,” said committee member Jeff Barlow, Chief of the Burlington Fire Protection District.

According to Major Bill Mark, a committee member and senior officer at the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, “Law enforcement relies on the radio an officer wears and the services at the dispatch center to hear the needs from the public and to call for assistance when needed each and every time they wear the uniform.  A modern system fully supported by the Communications Center is critical to public safety.”  

The Public Safety Communications Steering Committee fully supports the Fiscal Court’s  direction in  moving forward with the purchase of an 800 MHz P25 radio system and fully funding the 911 Emergency Communications Center. This has been the result of a deliberate, thoughtful and thorough process including first responders, elected officials, multiple county partnerships and the public. The result will enhance public safety and provide a safer environment for our first responders. This outcome once again demonstrates what makes our community so unique and prosperous and will serve us all well.