Maryland Launches Statewide Radio System

First responders communicated by radio during the G-8 summit at Camp David, even though officials say they had to manually patch their frequencies together.

That process took about two months to complete, but eventually, there will be a better way.

Earlier this week, the state launched Maryland FiRST, a statewide 700 MHz radio system built for first responders who need to communicate with other jurisdictions.

The new system -- in part -- is a response to a federal law that will require outdated systems to be upgraded, said Chip Jewell, director of Frederick County Emergency Communications.

"Every state agency will be able to use this system," he said.

Jewell sits on a state board that has discussed statewide communications issues for about four years. The new system is coming to Frederick County in fiscal 2014.

"This new statewide radio system will allow all of Maryland's public safety agencies to communicate more efficiently on the same system, which will ultimately enhance our mission of homeland security," said Col. Marcus L. Brown, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, in a statement released Tuesday.

For now, only the Maryland Transportation Authority and surrounding areas have installed the system. The first phase of Maryland FiRST will be fully operational by the end of this year, according to the state.

"There is still an amount of work that needs to be done to make sure everyone is operating" Jewell said.

The entire Maryland FiRST system is set to be complete by 2016.

Jewell said the installation keeps the state on pace with neighboring states that have already installed statewide communications systems. West Virginia and Pennsylvania both have similar systems.

Gov. Martin O'Malley made the first call on the new system Tuesday during an event at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.--

"There is no more important work in our country today than the work of first responders," O'Malley said in a statement.

The system will cost the state about $350 million to complete. New radios and other equipment will have to be purchased.

But some counties are already ahead of the curve if they have already installed towers necessary for the switch, Jewell said. The county has a tower that can pick up the frequency but still needs the equipment.

He said once equipment arrives locally the system will be useful because they have already encountered emergencies that required first responders to communicate across county lines.

Hurricane Isabelle is one example, Jewell said. During the storm, first responders from Frederick County were dispatched to various areas.

But that's not always the case.

"We want to be able to communicate when we need to, but not all the time," Jewell said.

For details on the Maryland First Responders Interoperable Radio System Team, visit doit.maryland.gov/interoperability.

Copyright 2012 - The Frederick News-Post, Md.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Loading