Experts concerned over communications change

September 30, 2010 4:00:11 PM PDT
You turn to them during life or death situations, and when seconds matter most, will they be able to respond in time? We're uncovering some big concerns that could affect you the next time you have an emergency. You hear it all the time after a disaster. A successful response greatly depends on communication between several different agencies. But if you live in Conroe or Montgomery County, you might not like this development. Emergency officials say the city and the county have been at odds for years about getting on the same page, all because of a change in radio systems.

When Jared Cosper drives to one of his calls as the Montgomery County Hospital District EMS supervisor, saving his patient's life isn't the only thing on his mind. Ever since Montgomery County removed the radio patches used to communicate with his agency, he feels left in the dark.

"For me to communicate a message to the sheriff's department, for example, I have to go from me, to my dispatcher, from my dispatcher to their dispatcher, to their officer and then that chain, that exact same flow has to come back to me," Cosper explained.

Montgomery County spent close to $10 million to install a new Motorola radio system designed to be more advanced and provide better coverage. But just two years ago, the City of Conroe and the Montgomery County Hospital District decided not to join the network. As a result, the county did provide patches so the entities could communicate, but just two weeks ago, those patches were removed. That, the city's fire chief says, is making a dangerous situation.

"One, for officers' safety, they should know, but it also may delay calls, miscommunications, wrong suspects," said Conroe Fire Department Chief Ken Kreger.

But county officials say that's simply not true. They say there are universal radio channels called iTech and iCall that can be used to communicate across agencies. They argue if there's a problem with communication, it's not on their end.

Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel said, "If they get on that channel and talk to sheriff's office dispatch, we will have a communications operator talking to them."

Whatever the problem is, Cosper just wants it fixed.

He said, "I think I speak for all my peers and also for those agencies, for my contemporaries, whenever I say that we just want to be able to speak to each other again."

We worked on this story through our partnership with Houston Community Newspapers. You can read more in the Courier of Montgomery County.


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