Safety forces get better connected

WARREN – Ernest Cook III tries to stay ahead of the game and he readily admits it’s a never-ending struggle to keep up with the technological advancements in the world of police communications.

”Since Sept. 11, the number one priority is interoperability. It means every emergency responder has to be able to talk with anyone involved in the same mission,” said Cook, a chief deputy in the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office and director of the Emergency 911 Center.

Cook also admits that keeping up often takes time and costs money.

This week though, sheriff’s deputies went online with an upgraded $600,000 simulcast radio system that will eventually give all police, fire and EMS personnel in the county the capability to talk with one another.

”It’s really a first for this county. Before, we would have different departments talking with only those on their own frequency. It was common to have a communication breakdown. Orders from a command center could fall on deaf ears with dead spots caused by unsynchronized transmitters.”

Now as of this week, Cook pointed out, an officer in Hermitage, Pa., can talk to an officer in Ravenna, linked through the network of three towers that bounce signals anywhere.

Soon, hundreds of cruisers and portable radios in all police, fire and EMS departments can connect on four channels – two designated for police and two for fire. For the next 30 days, any department can get reprogrammed into the new system free of charge. Cook said the programming service may also be offered to private ambulance companies, courtesy of Homeland Security funds that covered about 80 percent of the total $600,000 cost for the system.

The communication towers used by the county are located in the West Hill area of Brookfield, adjacent to Trumbull Correctional Institution in Leavittsburg and in Johnston Township behind the fire station there. The towers are the backbone of the system.

Formerly the county used a tower in Greene Township, but ran into red tape when objections were filed with the FCC by a small Canadian town south of Toronto.

The northernmost tower in Greene fell less than a mile over, or north, of what Cook called the ”A line” an imaginary boundary that runs east and west. Anything north of the line could possibly interfere with signals as far away as Canada.

”The town of St. Catherine filed an objection with the FCC and we weren’t able to get a license for the tower equipment,” Cook said. ”Needless to say, there would probably never be any interference up there, but they filed the objection anyway.”

County commissioners kicked in more than $40,000 to reconfigure the system almost three years ago and move a transmitter south of the A-line to the Johnston site. Since then, it’s been a slow process tweaking the system and getting step-by-step approvals from the FCC.

It’s all about eliminating communication problems that could occur during widespread disasters or during police chases that span several jurisdictions, Cook said.