LAUREL – Maryland police, fire and rescue workers will try out technology that should enable them to communicate more effectively during disasters like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, state officials announced Friday.
If the Maryland Wireless State Interoperability Project proves successful, Maryland would be the first to create a statewide voice system using an ACU- 1000, a radio connector device, to join multiple radio frequencies.
The system will only be activated by State Police during a crisis situation such as a major fire, accident, natural disaster or terrorist incident.
Without such a network, messages risk delay or confusion, hampering communication and coordination of those crews first at disaster scenes, said Col. David B. Mitchell, Maryland State Police superintendent.
For example, on Oct. 5, a tractor-trailer carrying eight missiles overturned and spilled its cargo on Interstate 70. Maryland State Police, Frederick County Fire and Rescue and Department of Defense personnel responded, but they could not coordinate via radio, said Mitchell.
“They (various rescue squads) know what they’re doing, but too often they don’t know what each other is doing,” said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who joined state officials for a demonstration of the technology at the Laurel Rest Area and Travel Information Center Friday.
“Communications is critical in any major incident,” said Andrew Marsh, director of Frederick County’s Fire and EMS Operations.
It’s an area that needs improving and this technology will do just that, Marsh said.
Other states already use the technology, which has been tested by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Defense, but Maryland is the first to use it in such a large area, said Townsend.
A public safety task force had discussed the project before Sept. 11, but the terrorist attacks “increased the urgency to solve the problem,” Townsend said.
The system will use seven connectors across the state to initially provide coverage from the Eastern Shore to Frederick County and from Washington, D.C., to the Pennsylvania border. Eventually, it will be expanded to cover the entire state.
The project will also include 100 wireless handheld computers, called PocketBlue and manufactured by Aether Systems Inc. in Owings Mills. The handheld computers will give police direct access to critical data and text messaging capability.
It will allow police to check criminal databases even if they’re not at their car or the police barracks and record information regarding suspicious people or vehicles, Mitchell said.
The project, coordinated by Maryland State Police with technical support from the University of Maryland, will take nine months to implement and cost $400,000.
Until the system is in place, state agencies can use similar technology recently installed in a Maryland State Police mobile command post.
– 30 – CNS 11-20-01