County installs new technology

Upgrades to technology are helping Marion County emergency responders communicate better, according to its director.

Part of the 19-county south-central Kansas region, Marion County is installing technology to make inter-county communications easier, according to Michele Abbott, the county director of Emergency Communications.

Sometimes unable to communicate with other counties by radio because of the conflicting radio bandwidths, new devices installed on radio towers and radios will allow communication between all radios, she said.

Emergency responder radios communicate three different ways, UHF, VHF and 800. Federal requirements are saying local agencies need to set up a system of cross bandwidth communication.

?Harvey County is VHF, Butler County is getting ready to go 800, we?re UHF,? Abbott said. ?That?s all three spectrums right there. Do I have the means to bring those all together??

The means come in several forms. One that will be used on a regional tower is called motobridge. The Internet-provider-based technology is assembled to radio towers to connect a UHF radio to an 800 radio.

?It takes a common channel, links the two together and now anybody talking on this one can now talk to this one,? Abbott said.

Another change in policy is opening the national mutual-aid frequencies to local agencies. All radios must be equipped with the ability to access the federal frequencies.

?Not only do I have Marion County specific frequencies, I have national mutual-aid frequencies that anyone who?s on my bandwidth can turn to a common channel and we all can talk on the same channel,? Abbott said.

With the upgrades, dispatchers within the south-central Kansas region will all have radio communications with all emergency responders in the 19 counties.

The move to the cross-bandwidth communication started 11 years ago after some interesting findings in 1998.

?Half the county was VHF and half the county was UHF,? Abbott said. ?If you crossed 190th, the north responders were on one bandwidth, and the south were on the other.?

Abbott said once funding was available, Marion County updated its communications system.

?We took a lot of the local Homeland Security money, as well as 911 dollars, and put everybody on the same bandwidth,? she said. ?Now, everybody is on UHF and every radio in Marion County has everyone?s frequencies.?

The upgraded radio communications will be complete in September, with all counties in the south-central region set up with the new technologies.

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