New Software Allows Utah Firefighters, Police, and Other First-Responders To Communicate

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Officials have completed part of a plan that will allow police, firefighters and other first-responders to communicate during emergencies anywhere in the state.

Gov. Olene Walker announced Tuesday that the Utah Wireless Integrated Network was successfully tested last month, and was implemented at the beginning of July.

It works by using computer software in dispatch and emergency control centers to connect the roughly 200 radio frequencies authorities use. That means someone at the northernmost tip of Utah could talk in minutes on a different radio frequency with another law enforcement officer camped on the Nevada state line.

It could have helped, for example, during the freak 1999 tornado that struck Salt Lake City, destroying 34 homes, overturning cars, killing one and injuring dozens.

Throughout the Salt Lake Valley, phone lines jammed, police radio frequencies were overloaded and cell phones ceased to operate _ thwarting communication between 30 agencies and offices coordinating response to the emergency.

``Agencies at all levels across the state now are able to communicate with anyone else,'' Walker said at a news conference.

The state used a $4 million federal grant to fund the first phase of the project. The second phase, set for completion by 2005, will allow authorities to share data on a powerful wireless network.

Former Gov. Mike Leavitt, Walker's predecessor, announced a plan to integrate state communications in 1997 that would have involved every agency shifting to the same frequency. However, the software was billed as a much less expensive fix.

The new software works on basic-looking desktop computers with a microphone attached. The very complicated process of bridging frequencies is completed by simply clicking and dragging certain windows onto others.

Authorities tested the new software at the Intermountain Power Plant near Lynndyl, in west-central Utah's Millard County. In a simulated electrical fire, officials gradually kicked up the emergency from the plant's security to the sheriff's office, state Department of Public Safety and finally the Utah National Guard.

Within four hours, Guard members were on the scene, said Lt. Col. Bart Berry of the Utah National Guard, and the system worked perfectly.