EMS World

AUG 2011

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DHS Working Toward Multi-Band Radios Agencies will be able to communicate seamlessly across bands “We’re hoping the more the merrier,” The word interoperability has been tossed around for years, promising to help responders avoid communications issues like those encountered during tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Thanks to an initiative launched three years ago by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and now nearing completion, the concept may soon be realized. says Program Manager Tom Chirhart. “One manufacturer recently told me we’ve created a new industry.” Chirhart has a number of personal connections to this project. He once served as a police officer and sheriff’s deputy in Minnesota and was the 9-1-1 director in Orange County, VA. Amateur radio also is a hobby. “The ability to connect directly instead of having to go through dispatchers saves a lot of time,” Chirhart says. “There is a lot of capability on this one device. The sky’s the limit.” The information obtained during the project will be compiled into a report that will include an easy-to-understand buyer’s guide to help first responders find the right solution. “We want to be able to offer the Photo courtesy Harris Radio The Multi-Band Radio Project is aimed at developing a portable radio prototype that allows emergency responders to communicate seamlessly with partner agencies regardless of radio bands used. Comparable to existing radios in cost, size and weight, the multi-band radio will ultimately provide emergency responders with cutting-edge communications capabilities. The project began in 2008 with testing of the Thales Liberty radio and now includes radios from Harris, Motorola and Datron—and DHS may add others. 54 AUGUST 2011 | EMSWORLD.com technical side in a non-technical publi- cation,” Chirhart says. “Responders want the basics and to know what they should be looking for.” DHS anticipates the last of the pilot tests to be completed around late fall, and that the report and buyer’s guide will be released sometime in the spring of 2012. The radio will support frequen- cies between 138 MHz and 800 MHz, as well as Department of Defense, Red Cross, Salvation Army, National Weather Service, amateur radio and marine bands. In one of its most recent pilots, DHS brought the radios to the city most affected by Katrina’s wrath six years ago. Acadian Ambulance Service—the largest private ambulance service in Louisiana—had a chance to try out the radios during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival that kicked off in late April and lasted for 10 days. Operations Manager Rene Millet says while his agency didn’t have a lot of time to train with the radios before using them, employees were pleased. “With the training we did have and amount of time we had to use them, they seemed to work well,” Millet says. The main complaint—one Chirhart says has been made by many responders—was the length of the antennas. “If there were some way to make the antenna smaller, that’s been the biggest complaint,” Millet says. “Other than that, it’s a very sophisticated radio and works well. It’s great you can switch over without carrying two radios.” He says the radios would help improve communications with New Orleans EMS. Neither that agency nor Acadian can currently monitor each other’s dispatches. Jeb Tate, spokesman for New Orleans EMS, echoed Millet’s sentiments. “We’ll be able to get in touch with the agencies still on UHF or VHF without having to use multiple radios,” Tate says.“It was nice to have one radio that had all those bands.” As for the issues with the antenna? “It’s a bit uncomfortable, but it’s a give and take,” Tate says, adding that the length is understandable considering the range of channels it must pick up. Chirhart says the antenna issue is being worked on, just as a number of features have been altered following

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