New system set to help Athens first responders communicate during emergencies

Published: Jan. 31, 2022 at 11:47 AM CST
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ATHENS, Ala. (WAFF) - Athens city leaders want to strengthen communication between first responders, they say this is a real need in the area.

They plan on building a new radio system that will create clear communication lines between essential services.

Right now, several first responder departments are on separate radio systems. They want all nearby departments to get on the same system, specifically, the P-25 radio system. “The P-25 system allows first responders to use the radios they have to automatically be able to communicate instead of trying to go through patching and finding radios that are compatible. Right now our fire and police department are on different bands, one is on VHF another is on UHF,” said Athens Grant Coordinator and Communications Specialist, Holly Hollman, who is spearheading this project.

She says this will also help with weak signals in rural areas. “When we had President Bush come a couple of years ago and the police department was assigned to Brownsferry Nuclear Plant, where he was speaking, and they had trouble communicating with dispatchers because the signal was too weak so we still have very rural areas in our county where you can have dead spots and its hard for radios to pick up with the P-25 radios will help with that.

Persistently poor signal in the county is what triggered the county to make the Radio Advisory Committee, made up of members from police and fire departments, emergency management agencies, 911 services, hospitals and schools. They recommended the area should adopt the P-25 communication system.

This P-25 communication system is a standard system, many groups across north Alabama use it like the City of Huntsville, Marshall County Sheriff’s Office and other groups. The towers across the region all connect to the core of the system, located in Huntsville.

The City of Athens would have to pay Huntsville to use the core, build its own towers and buy new radios. Hollman says this costs about $1.8 million. She says the cost will be split up by all the departments that sign on to the program. She says she hopes Limestone County, Admore and Elkmont all sign on. She also says she thinks the local hospitals and the city and county schools should join in as well. 911 board is already on board.

Hollman says the deadline to be a part of the program is in the next few months. Once they finalize the P-25 communication system agreement, Hollman says it should take one to two years to set up the infrastructure.

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