BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Can you hear me now?  It’s a line from a commercial, but a version of it was put into use Tuesday as the state of Maryland unveiled a multi-million dollar communication system for emergency responders.

Mary Bubala reports Maryland tested its new communication system for first responders with help from governor Martin O’Malley.

The radio system connects all Maryland police, firefighters, EMS and emergency management personnel for the first time.

“Public safety needs their own system that allows them to get through,” one first responder said.

Ray Lehr, a former Baltimore city fire chief, helped design the new system.

Lehr says that the attack on 9/11 is the ultimate example of a communication breakdown for first responders.  The New York Police Department called for the towers to be evacuated, but firefighters never heard.

Maryland’s new system not only links all agencies, but it also operates on its own powerful frequency.

This way when phone lines are jammed during a state of emergency, first responders will have clear communication to respond.

“It’s built to a higher standard than cellular is,” Ray Lehr, Maryland Statewide Interoperability Exec., said. “There’s back-up generators, the towers are much stronger, and it’s linked by fiber optic cable which is underground so it’s less likely to be taken out in a storm.”

Ross Coates from Harford County’s 911 center is grateful for the news. Tornadoes  recently swept through the county.

“Having an additional fallback system available to us definitely would have supported us in that incident,” Coates said.

The first phase of the new system will be fully operational by the end of 2012.

The entire system will be up and running by 2016, at a cost of $345 million.

Kent County and the Maryland State Police are the first to be connected to the new frequency.


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