Countywide cooperation

Doubters who think Marion County is too divided to ever pull together behind cooperative efforts should have been listening to their police scanners Monday night.

The seamless way in which law enforcement personnel, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and others from throughout the county pulled together for a lengthy manhunt belies all the talk about how the county just can’t get along.

Listening also revealed how the county has been has cutting corners in recent years, continuing to rely on outmoded systems for protecting the public.

At a time when it was entirely possible there might be serious injury to residents, or officers, the nearest ambulance, based in Marion, had insufficient personnel to respond. Emergency medical director Ed Debesis quickly filled in, as he has all too frequently, and an ambulance from even farther away did not have to respond.

Still, there were numerous problems because officers in Marion County use an old 400 mHz radio system, while officers from Dickinson County use an even older 150 mHz system. They couldn’t talk to each other and there was no way to talk in private. State troopers, who normally use a modern 800 mHz system that operates much like cell phones, could reach both counties’ officers, but the two counties could not communicate directly except by phone.

Years ago, Marion County’s had a visionary communications director, Michele Abbott, now in Reno County, who recommended adopting the same system troopers uses. The state foots most of the cost, running all transmission towers, and the system works anywhere, anytime, giving any person dealing with public safety instant access to any other public safety worker.

The only Marion County unit to adopt the system, however, was Burns’ rural fire department. The rest of the county didn’t because volunteer firefighters and EMTs each wanted their own radios, not just pagers, and cost would have been prohibitive.

Now that the system of having so many volunteers is falling by the wayside, perhaps it’s time to reconsider Abbott’s recommendation before lack of an interoperable communication system leads to tragedy.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified July 27, 2016

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