The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Tornado Outbreak 2011

October 26, 2011

First responders work to improve communications after storms

(Continued)

ATHENS —

Athens Fire Department

But the solution to Limestone County’s emergency communications is to go to a full digital communication system, said Athens Fire Chief Danny Southard. Currently, the fire departments in Limestone County are UHF and Athens Fire is VHF.

“Our biggest issue was that the area we were working in southeast Athens and eastern Limestone County were the furthest-possible distance from our fixed repeaters,” Southard said.

This made their walkie-talkies virtually unusable, he said, though the mobile radios in their trucks still worked.

To remedy the problem, the department applied for a Homeland Security grant through the EMA and, a couple of weeks ago, obtained six mobile repeaters that will be mounted on the apparatus and command vehicles. This will also help them when they are inside a metal building or a hospital, Southard said.

Yet, the chief sees this fix as merely a Band-Aid. The solution is for all emergency services to switch to digital.

“I believe Athens and Limestone County should go to a unified 800 or all-digital radio system, but it would cost millions of dollars,” Southard said.

He said Huntsville and Madison upped its 911 fees to pay for digital infrastructure and Limestone could do the same but the various agencies would still have to find the money for the communication gear. However, all of the communication would operate when it is needed, whether it is a mobile radio or a handheld unit.

“That is the future of emergency communication,” Southard said.

 

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Tornado Outbreak 2011
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