By TRACY GORDON FOX
Courant Staff Writer
September 6, 2007
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, homeland security officials nationwide have known that first responders need to be able to communicate with each other in an emergency, using one radio frequency.
On Wednesday, Connecticut became the first state to make that possible, as top state officials, including Gov. M. Jodi Rell, unveiled a seamless radio system that allows state and local police to talk to each other from their departments, their cars or their portable radios. The ability for police officers to be able to talk to one another statewide will be useful in police pursuits, natural disasters and other incidents that involve multiple towns.
Best of all, the cost - $1 million in federal grant money - is relatively inexpensive because the infrastructure of the existing state police radio system will be used and works immediately for 40 to 50 percent of the local police departments. Those departments that don't operate on the same radio frequency as the state police can purchase units for their cruisers at a relatively low cost and be able to hook up to the system, state officials said.
Public Safety Commissioner John A. Danaher III said the system could have cost more than $5.5 million.
"This is, in many respects, a win-win situation for the citizens of Connecticut, the state police and local police," Danaher said.
Danaher pointed to a recent state police pursuit that went through Farmington, West Hartford and Hartford. "These situations occur all too frequently," he said. "This system will help protect police and the citizens."
Rell, declaring September National Preparedness Month, showed off the new system by calling Troop L in Litchfield from a black and white Cheshire police cruiser.
She also declared "interoperability the word of the day."
"What we were looking for and what we wanted all along was real time communication," Rell said. "And we wanted this in place before hurricane season."
The 9/11 commission found that poor communication was a major flaw in the nation's homeland security system, and a review this year found that of 75 major U.S. cities, only six received a top grade in emergency communications.
Because of that, the state received $13 million in "interoperable communications" grants for first responders. The new radio network, called the Connecticut State Police Emergency Radio Network was paid for with federal funds, state officials said.
"This is a very important day for the state of Connecticut," said James Thomas, commissioner for emergency management and homeland security. "For a very long time, we've known interoperability was going to be the key. This is driving it down to the ground level where it needs to be."
"All too often we've heard about what we've learned post 9/11 about communication in New York City," said Ansonia Police Chief Kevin Hale, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. "We will have 24-hour instant communication between agencies in the state."
Madison Police Chief Paul Jakubson, who was instrumental in the technical side of the system, said local police departments will be trained to use the radio system if they have the correct frequency, or instructed on how to obtain compatible radios that can be purchased with homeland security money.
He said it has always been a goal "to provide accurate and sufficient information down to the street level."
"We've never enjoyed that in the street, and I've been in law enforcement for 30 years," Jakubson said.
Contact Tracy Gordon Fox at email@example.com.
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