THE capability of public safety personnel to communicate by radio in a crisis would seem to be both invaluable and a necessity. By that standard, the new $24 million radio system for emergency responders in Toledo and throughout Lucas County has been a long time coming.
Toledo police first used a radio system - one way, from headquarters to the department's "scout cars" - in 1930. It was later extended to the fire and sheriff's departments.
Now, 77 years later, the last links are being put into place in a new digital system that connects all 31 law enforcement, fire, and rescue jurisdictions in the county.
Another aspect of this technical upgrade puts local departments in touch with public agencies across Ohio using the statewide 800-megahertz radio network known as the Multi Agency Radio Communications System.
Unlike the old analog equipment, the new digital radios can transmit signals from almost anywhere, including underground. They were tested in basements, tunnels, and boiler rooms, and "everything works," says Sheriff James Telb,
While it may seem quaint in this day and age of instant messaging via the Internet, full-fledged two-way radio communication between emergency responders has not been possible because of a tangle of incompatible frequencies and equipment used by the various agencies.
Until now, says Mike Koontz, head of Lucas County's communication system, "everybody was kind of in their own little communication world."
The practical effect of this disconnect was to make the difficult job of first responders even harder. One example: When a Burlington Air Express jet crashed at Toledo Express Airport in 1992, arriving emergency crews were hampered because they couldn't talk to each other over their disparate radio systems.
As we have noted previously, the extended period of time it has taken to finally put a universal system in place is nothing short of incredible. Planners had to overcome years of turf battles, official rivalries, and bureaucratic inertia endemic to our fragmented system of local government.
And then there was the cost. In the end, local governments paid part of the bill, but the bulk of the $24 million for the system's infrastructure came from the federal government and the county's 9-1-1 tax levy.
This is money well-spent, and the investment of tax dollars undoubtedly will be repaid in lives saved through better coordination of emergency personnel. It's a shame, however, that it took so long.