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Committee looks at emergency communications

March 11, 2009
In a move that had been anticipated and talked about for years, the Crawford County Board of Commissioners took measures last month to form a communications committee that it hopes will encourage cooperation and improve communications between emergency responders in the county.

Milltown Police Chief Ray Saylor has been appointed to chair the committee, which had its first meeting recently to organize and begin looking at ideas.

"So far, we have chosen several people to serve on the committee," Saylor said. "Debbie Wiseman will be on the committee to represent (Emergency Medical Services). Kent Barrow, (Emergency Management Agency) director, will also serve, as well as one commissioner and a member of the Crawford County Council. Bill Byrd of Milltown will represent the citizens, and we're still developing the board."

Saylor said the group will look at all components of the E-911 system and how communications are handled by other responders.

"If we all work together, we can make things better for the community," Saylor said. "All the day-to-day stuff at E-911 will still be handled by Richard White, the supervisor. Ours is a much broader scope. We'll be establishing sub-committees and looking at things we can improve on. Our job is basically to come up with ideas and develop recommendations. I will be reporting to the commissioners, and we'll work with the county council, also. Having one of them on the board will help."

The county began improving radio and other communication equipment in the last two years, establishing a CAD (computer aided dispatch) system at E-911 that requires substantial training to operate but improves communications because more information is available to dispatchers. The system also improves record keeping by storing information on every call and dispatch in a computer, which can easily be pulled up if needed.

The county only recently purchased new 800 megahertz radios for all emergency responders, including county police, fire departments, E-911 and EMS vehicles. The radios, bought with a grant procured by EMA Director Kent Barrow, puts Crawford County on the cutting edge of Homeland Security communications recommendations, ahead of several other counties in the state.

"Our needs in Crawford County are the same as any other county," Barrow said. "We have been praised by Indiana Homeland Security because of the progress we've made. There are 12 counties in our district, and any funding from Homeland Security will be split 12 ways. Each county gets an equal share. We're also on a task force and can be deployed anywhere we're needed. But, of course, any deployment would be funded by the state. But we have to have good equipment in order for the people to do a good job and we have to be proactive, to make improvements as they are needed."

Saylor agreed with Barrow on the communication needs of the county.

"One year ago, in Milltown, I couldn't even use my portable radio to talk to a neighboring county. Now, I can talk to Indianapolis. It's so much better for backup and support. The new radios make it safer to do my job. We still have the old VHS (lower band) radios, but they have been replaced with the 800 megahertz radios and are now used as a backup system."

The committee will monitor communication problems and decide if more radios or equipment are needed, if more training is needed and if radios and communication equipment are being used properly.

"In 2001, I heard how far behind Crawford County was — that the county was out of touch," said Saylor, who became police chief in Milltown that year. "No one can say that now. We are blessed with the quality of emergency responders we have. Each agency has worked so hard to get where they are. They have gone door to door, tried all kinds of fundraising, whatever it took to make things work. And our committee will be extremely respectful of that.

"We will have two meetings a month for a while and stay on target. The public is welcome at the meetings if anyone wants to listen or sit in, or they can bring an issue to the board. I'm really excited about this and what Crawford County has accomplished. They have done a tremendous job of advancing communications in the county. If we can do it here, with limited resources, no one else has an excuse."

The next communications committee meeting will be tonight (Wednesday) at 7 at Hillview Christian Church west of Marengo along S.R. 64.

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