BALLWIN, MO (KTVI) – St. Louis County is unveiling its new radio system for first responders this week. Tax dollars from a special sales tax will pay for $66.4 million dollars of equipment. It will connect police, fire and emergency medical crews on special radio channels when multiple agencies are needed for a natural or manmade emergency.
St. Louis County Public Safety Supervisor Daniel Davis said surrounding counties are in the process of joining the communication effort. The terror attack on September 11, 2001 magnified the old system’s shortcomings.
“We didn’t have the capability for police, fire and medical to talk to one another,” Davis explained. “Now we can supply a radio channel for a particular incident or a tornado. Everybody can speak with one another to give optimal service in the area where it’s required.”
The unified system should reduce the time it takes for commanders on the scene to reach first responders when additional help is needed.
A new emergency operations center is now open and the county’s outdoor tornado siren system has been upgraded thanks to the special emergency communications sales tax that was approved by voters in 2009.
The operations center includes a new 911 answering and police dispatch facility that is large enough to accommodate countywide dispatching service if that is needed. Forty agencies contract with St. Louis County for dispatching service.
Nineteen other 911 answering centers exist in St. Louis County. Municipal police departments own and operate the other centers. Some of them offer service to smaller police departments under a contract. St. Louis County provided the upgraded radio equipment to each of those centers.
But each 911 center has its own computer dispatching system. Emergency 911 calls made with cell phones can also produce varying results.
“There are still many cell phones out there using older technology. Those cell phone companies are not able to provide us with exact coordinate information for where the call is originating from,” Davis said.
Cell phone users need to give dispatchers their precise location to insure first responders can find them.
St. Louis County is in the process of upgrading the 911 system but cell phone owners and their service providers must also improve their technology. “The next generation 911 will certainly allow us a little better ability to pinpoint cell phone users and as everybody upgrades their cell phones and the older technology phones go by the wayside then we’ll certainly be able to do a better job pinpointing where they are calling from,” said Davis.