The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Tornado Outbreak 2011

October 26, 2011

First responders work to improve communications after storms

ATHENS — In the wake of the April 27 tornadoes, Limestone County law-enforcement agencies decided to improve their ability to communicate in the event of a future disaster.

One official says an entire, new digital communication system is the best way to go in the future.

Limestone County Sheriff

“We’ve got satellite phones for me and my supervisors,” Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely said.

After the storm struck that afternoon, communicating by cellphone was extremely difficult or impossible, the sheriff said, either because cellphone towers were downed or damaged or overloaded with calls, the sheriff said.

With satellite telephones, officers will still be able to communicate should another disaster strike.

The department also changed providers for its cellphones, which double as walkie-talkies, choosing to go with SouthernLINC Wireless.

The Limestone County Commission approved a grant Oct. 18 to provide communications equipment to county agencies. The Department of Homeland Security will pay 75 percent, or $27,179, of the grant for emergency management , with the county providing a 25 percent match, or $9,059.

Athens Police

Athens Police Department was able to maintain radio communication after the storm, mainly because it had backup power, Capt. Floyd Johnson said.

“We did have some issues with a repeater failing and it took time to get that straightened out,” he said. “Our cellphones went down.”

Johnson said the department is devising a broad plan to provide better communication in the future.

"We are looking at funding for new equipment and also for improving what we have, so we can be prepared for the next time,” he said. “We haven’t made any new purchases yet but we are in the planning stages, working with other departments and the mayor to address the worst-case scenarios."

He said the department has been working with Limestone County Emergency Management Agency and the Athens Fire Department along the way.

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