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$249,935 grant provides emergency radios

May 14, 2008
Thanks to a grant that was pursued by Crawford County Emergency Management Agency Director Kent Barrow, assisted by the English Volunteer Fire Department, Crawford County law enforcement and emergency responders now have radio communication equipment that puts them all on the same page with the rest of the state and even federal agencies.

The grant, totaling $249,935, was given through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in setting up an interoperatable communication system statewide. The money was used to purchase radios that will work on that system.

"We now have enough radios for every agency in the county," Barrow said. "There will be a radio for each fire truck, three ambulances, Central Dispatch and handheld radios for firefighters, police officers and EMTs. Each town in the county already has one that was purchased with a grant that we obtained in 2006."

The radios will give county agencies more communication options.

"Up to this point, there was one channel that was used," Barrow said. "We now have multiple talk groups (channels) that can be used by all the agencies if needed. Actually, there are 12 talk groups available. This puts the Crawford County radio system ahead of most counties in Southern Indiana."

Without the grant, it would have been difficult for Crawford County to come up with the financing for the system.

"We just couldn't have afforded it," said Mike Benham, assistant fire chief at the English Volunteer Fire Department. "Kent prepared all the paperwork for us, and we hosted the grant. We expanded it to include the three ambulances and seven handhelds for the sheriff's department.

"The base unit is scheduled to be installed at Central Dispatch as we speak, and we'll soon have more versatility and the ability to talk to all agencies, including federal, state and local. The system is more secure, like cell phones, but we'll still experience a few dead areas. The way it will be set up, if one system doesn't work, we can use another one.

"We can now talk to Evansville, Jasper or Sellersburg (state police) and to all towns. More towers will be installed, and if a tower goes down, we'll still be able to use our old units. The new radios actually look the same, but are a lot more complex."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently awarded the Indiana Department of Homeland Security $18.3 million for its grant program which is intended to enhance communication capabilities of public safety agencies all over the state. The funds must be used to buy equipment, deploy communications systems, or train for use on communications systems that are capable of operation within the 700 MHz spectrum.

The Crawford County funding was part of this grant and, Barrow said, was one of the largest public service grants in the county's history.

"The grant required a 5-percent match," Barrow said. "Several departments and the county was able to come up with the 5-percent match, and we got the grant. I feel really good about it, and I'm certainly proud to be a part of it."

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