Grants push county closer to improving communication system

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Leslie Hockaday, a Communications Specialist III at Routt County Communications, will probably use an 800 megahertz radio system to deliver emergency radio traffic to first responders throughout the county in the near future thanks to recent grants from Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

— A recent dose of federal grants has pushed Routt County in the right direction to begin using an 800-megahertz system for emergency responders.

Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said that while the grants will help install the expensive communication system, the county's law enforcement agencies, fire departments, ambulances and other emergency responders likely won't be able to use the system until 2008.

Vale estimated that each of the mobile, 800-MHz radios costs about $4,000, including installation. Individual departments likely will be responsible for providing officers and emergency responders with portable or hand-held radios, Vale said.

"We're not going to be able to get all of (the mobile radios), but this is a good start," he said. "It's been a long time coming."

More than $760,000 in federal grants has helped the county fund the project, which became a state and federal initiative after Sept. 11 when emergency responders realized they weren't able to communicate with each other because agencies were using different communication systems, Vale said.

While Routt County will continue to use its current VHF communication system, the 800-MHz system will allow county officials to communicate with surrounding counties, other state and federal agencies and the Colorado State Patrol, which is already using the 800-MHz system, Vale said.

"It's a matter of public safety," he said. "All the police, fire people and EMS need to be able to talk to each other in emergency situations or someone's going to get hurt."

Two grants are helping to fund the upgrade. One grant for $180,000 was awarded to the county through a Homeland Security program, to outfit the Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek and Hayden police departments and the Routt County Sheriff's Office with the system. That grant was awarded through the Northwest All Hazards Emergency Management Region, which is comprised of 10 Northwest Colorado counties. The second grant was for $589,301 and awarded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Fire Act.

Steamboat Springs Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said the grant will be used to supply radios to Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue and the North Routt, South Routt, Yampa and West Routt fire protection districts.

"This was an effort of all five of the fire departments working together," he said.

The grant should cover the purchase of 45 mobile radios and 162 portable radios for the county's fire departments, Struble said.

The county's 13 ambulances already have the mobile radios installed as part of an earlier effort to get the 800-MHz system into emergency response vehicles, Vale said.

In February 2006, the Routt County Board of Commissioners agreed to use an $870,645 state Department of Local Affairs grant to build into the state's 800-MHz communications system. Infrastructure for the system already has been installed around the county, Vale said.

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