Baltimore County Gets $77 Million Emergency Communications System Upgrade

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TOWSON, Md. (WJZ)—A hard lesson learned from the attacks on 9/11 is that without good emergency communications, people die.  Billions in upgrades have been spent since then.

As Mike Schuh reports, Baltimore County showed off what $77 million will buy.

It’s 1990, and briefly rapper Vanilla Ice is a star. Personal music: an iPod? Try a boom box. And a cell phone was as big as a television. It’s also the year the radios in Baltimore County were last upgraded. Since then transmission to and from about 5 percent of the county sounded muffled. But not anymore.

Now new digital radios and a 911 center is up and running.

“This is no different than the need to have bulletproof vests or the latest fire engines,” said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

A good analogy is the evolution of this system is like looking at the evolution of televisions. First it started with black and white. Then “we went to an 800 megahertz system, basically bringing in color, color TV,” said Mike Day, president of the firefighters union. “This is taking us to the high def level.”

Clear communication means one fewer stress point in an emergency.

“It feels good to help them and know exactly what they need in order to help them,” said Kasia Gatchalian, 911 dispatcher.

The $77 million cost was approved by voters.

“I guess the question is what price do you put on public safety?” Kamenetz said.

Late last year Anne Arundel County had so many problems with its new dispatch system that its use was suspended. Baltimore County says its dispatch system is reliable and has not changed.

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