Lessons learned: N.J. county to link emergency personnel
Plans to buy computer program to tie together radio frequencies
The "soft-patch program" is the most expensive item Middlesex County plans to acquire with this year's $1.3 million federal grant, Freeholder Christopher Rafano said.
"There's no question that one of the most important lessons learned from September 11 was the need to improve our communication ability," Rafano said.
Officials decided to make the "soft patch" a priority at a 90-minute meeting yesterday among local, state and county lawmen, firefighters and emergency management officials at the county fire academy in Sayreville.
Over the past four years, Middlesex has been using Homeland Security funds to improve communications throughout the county. Police now have their own frequency, as do fire departments and emergency personnel.
"This takes us to the next level, and we can tie in multiple municipalities," said Rory Zach, the county's emergency management coordinator. He said all the agencies will still be able to use their own radios.
The inability to communicate is very frustrating, Middlesex Borough Police Chief James Benson said.
"An officer can be 100 feet away and you can see him but you can't communicate with him," said Benson, a former president of the county chiefs association.
Often police officers from different towns are forced to call into their dispatchers to relay information between departments.
"It's very convoluted, cumbersome - and inaccurate information can go back and forth," Benson said.
Communication has been an issue in law enforcement for at least the past 25 years and the cost of a new system has been a major stumbling block, he said.
Copyright 2007 Newark Morning Ledger Co.
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