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Police officers cannot talk to highway road crews right now. These challenges are something we face on a day-to-day basis.

Jefferson County plans emergency communications system upgrades

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Federal workers reportedly complained about the inability to communicate during Irene, and following the recent earthquake, when cell phone networks went down. According to the Washington Post, many felt they were left in the dark, and agency leaders couldn't disseminate key information.

The Federal Communications Commission and wireless carriers report that 65-hundred cell sites were down along the East Coast during Hurricane Irene. Forty-four percent of Vermont's cell sites were down. The Post reports that confusion and a lack of coordination has federal employees worried that the government is still woefully unprepared for emergency situations.

Here in the North Country, Jefferson County is planning big improvements to its emergency communications system. The legislature just named a committee to research options and report back to lawmakers on the issue. Joanna Richards has more.

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Joanna Richards
Watertown Correspondent

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Consider a typical car accident. Police, fire and ambulance crews all respond to the scene. They need to coordinate their efforts to close off roadways, redirect traffic and evacuate any injured people. 

Fred Lampman is deputy director of fire and emergency management for Jefferson County. He says the problem is that different emergency services can't talk to each other easily.

"That bridge does not exist today whatsoever." Lampman said,"They're completely disparate systems, and police officers cannot talk to highway road crews right now. These challenges are something we face on a day-to-day basis, from something as simple as a motor vehicle accident, up to the next ice storm."

Right now, all emergency responders have to go through the county dispatch center.To Lampman, this bottleneck seems like is a waste of resources:

"Right now our dispatchers are busy enough handling emergency 911 calls and answering other calls for service that they don't really have the time to be able to relay messages back and forth."

Steven Harter is a county legislator for District 5, the town of LeRay. He's chairing the three-person committee looking at how to go about making the needed upgrades to the county emergency communications system. Harter says the issue came up now because the fire radio system needed some improvements. 

"When you look at that and say, well, it's gonna be an expensive project. Should we not look at how it ties in to all of the other radios that are used in our county, and the ability to add capabilities of communicating between agencies?"

Harter says the committee's process of gathering information, looking at options and reporting back to the Legislature will likely take 12 to 18 months. Lampman estimates that it will take 3-5 years before the changes proposed can be actually built into the system.

The project means all the small town and village fire and police departments in the county will have to change over to new radio equipment. Lampman says some other counties that have made similar changes have opted to pay for these upgrades, but whether or not Jefferson County will do the same is a question the Legislature will have to decide.


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