Views mixed over state radio system

Published 5:00 am Thursday, August 27, 2009

A new statewide radio system that will allow communicationacross the state when it is complete could be cost prohibitive forsome counties, but others say they’ll find ways to use it,officials said.

The $221 million statewide emergency radio system should cover97 percent of the state when it is fully installed. It went onlinefor the area from the Mississippi Gulf Coast to Jackson earlierthis week.

Copiah County Civil Defense Director Randle Drane said hiscounty will be able to implement the system thanks to a $207,000grant that will help them put radios in the hands of departmentheads at Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Wesson campus, HindsCommunity College’s Utica campus, Hardy Wilson Memorial Hospital,the Copiah County Sheriff’s Department, and police and firedepartments in Wesson, Hazlehurst and Crystal Springs.

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“That will allow us if something happens to any of the highbandsystems in the county, we’ll still have a way of communicating,” hesaid. “The department heads will have these radios. Due to the costand upkeep, all our volunteers will not have radios. They’ll justwork through my office and me if something comes up.”

Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey said thesystem is cost-prohibitive for many counties at this time,however.

“We have nothing that works on that system, and the radios thatwork on that cost two to three times the cost of what we use now,”he said, adding that there is a $10-$20 fee per month per radio touse the system.

Galey also serves as the president of the Mississippi CivilDefense/ Emergency Management Association. He said Lincoln Countyis not the only county that will not be immediately able to utilizethe system.

“I know some of the other directors I talked to around the stateare not doing it because it’s not compatible with theirs either,”he said.

Galey cited the overall cost, even beyond purchasing theequipment, which would run $1,200 for a handheld radio.

“There’s a monthly fee to be on it. If we were to totally usethe system in Lincoln County and Brookhaven, we’d have to have over500 radios, at $20 a month, even $10 a month, plus maintenance andupkeep,” he said. “That’s not realistic for us.”

But he said in case of an emergency there are several other waysto contact authorities around the state. He said there are stillstatewide high-band and low-band radios, and the ones currentlyused by the county can be programmed with other frequencies.

Galey said there are also satellite radios kept by localMississippi Emergency Management and Health Department officialsand King’s Daughters Medical Center. And during Katrina, theMississippi Department of Wildlife, Game and Fisheries also helpedout with their satellite radios.

“We can also set up radios from outside sources in my commandpost, that lets us talk across different frequencies through that,”he said.

Drane said, however, that the grant money will allow his countyto acquire dual-band radios. This is important, he said, becausethere is always the chance that something large could happen.

“It’s all about joint communications and working together,” hesaid, citing Simpson County across the river, and working withClaiborne County on the nuclear system.

“This is something that can be utilized for any kind ofdisaster. If Copiah County needs to evacuate Georgetown, I’ll needto send them to Simpson County and I’ll need help with trafficcontrol and everything else,” he said.

State officials said the U.S. Department of Marine Resources andsome Mississippi Highway Patrol units are already using thesystem.