Communication system connects D.C. agencies
The Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Council of Governments (COG) has built an interoperable radio system that allows more than 20 police, fire, federal law enforcement and traffic departments to communicate during emergencies. The system is an outgrowth of a radio system tested by one of the members of COG — the Alexandria, Va., Police Department (APD) — five years ago.
In late 1998, APD was called to an incident at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, where a person was threatening to commit suicide. The APD was joined by police from Prince George’s County, Md.; Washington D.C.; Maryland; Virginia; and the U.S. Park Police because each had jurisdiction for the bridge. Each group arrived with different radios operating on a range of frequencies, which made radio communication among the agencies impossible. Officers were forced to send hand-written notes to each other via runners to execute the response plan. That communication method required too much time and was a drain on resources, although law enforcement succeeded in preventing the person from jumping.
Because the incident was not the first to demonstrate communication inefficiencies among law enforcement agencies in the region, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Office of Science and Technology AGILE Program worked with APD to improve communication by testing off-the-shelf products. APD was outfitted with an ACU-1000 interoperability gateway by Raleigh, N.C.-based JPS. The gateway uses digital signal processing to connect UHF, VHF and 800 MHz radios as well as cell phones and a landline phone.
Initially, four agencies — APD with 800 MHz radios, the U.S. Park Service and Metro Transit police with VHF radios, and the Washington Metropolitan police with UHF radios — were connected to the system. “The geographic location and size of Alexandria made interagency communication necessary on at least a weekly basis,” says Eddie Reyes, lieutenant for APD. “The change in communications was remarkable. Eliminating the chaos and confusion in the field has lead to more successful response efforts.”
Based on the success of the system in Alexandria, in early 2002 the COG Police and Fire Chiefs committees adopted the APD model as the region’s communications interoperability system. The NIJ purchased and installed another ACU-1000 to connect an additional 16 agencies to the regional communications system. That installation marked the beginning of the Metropolitan Interoperability Radio System (MIRS).
The COG Police and Fire Communications subcommittees recently established an area-wide protocol for the operation and execution of the system. Additionally, more public safety agencies are being added to the MIRS.
Several public safety agencies in the region have installed ACU-1000s in mobile response units such as command buses, vehicles and vans to complement the fixed-site installations and to provide on-scene communications interoperability support. “Having this technology allows our public safety officers to do their job more successfully, ensuring safer response scenes and more lives saved,” Reyes says.