Communication is vital when responding to disasters like tornadoes or wildfires. To improve it, emergency agencies are upgrading their radios from analog to digital.
The Panhandle Regional Planning Commission wants to have the entire area switched over to digital by the end of next year.
Prompted by the September 11 disaster, when emergency crews from all over were unable to communicate with each other on their radios, the federal government says all emergency services need to improve communication lines by 2015. The way to do that is upgrading radios to digital.
Terry Coffee, Director of Panhandle EMS, says, "you'll be able to link everyone together with this new system. Rather than one person talking on this channel and then this entity talking on this channel, now we can link everybody together."
Meaning everyone can hear everything and respond better than before. That is especially helpful in situations like massive wildfires or tornadoes that demand the help of agencies from around the area.
David Cann of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission says "the primary thing we've gained is radios with more channel space in them, to have the local dispatch that they need."
That means while crews are on scene at one emergency, local dispatch has lines clear to answer calls for others. But the cost of the new radios has some areas scrambling for money.
Coffee says, "we're going to get radios for our ambulances but as far as portables we could use, 7 or 8 portables, we don't have the funding for that. So we're going to have to find grant money."
Much of the cost for the digital upgrade has been covered by the Department of Homeland Security.