Va. county fights comm failures

First responders in Arlington County, Va., have faced many communications crises.

Twenty-one years before the sniper killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin last fall or the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon, Air Florida Flight 90 struck a bridge and crashed into the Potomac River within the county.

Flight 90, followed within an hour by a fatal subway crash, 'was the wake-up call for public-safety communications in this area,' said Craig Allen, systems manager for Arlington County's Emergency Communications Center.

Before 1982, each first-response organization 'took care of our own stuff with our own resources,' Allen said. The radio systems did not permit intercommunication.

'We used to have to do a patch,' he said. 'They were terrible. They didn't sound good, and they were complicated to set up.'

After 1982, local jurisdictions began trying 'to make sure we can talk to our neighbors and they can talk to us,' Allen said.

The county has been using a 15-channel, 800-MHz Motorola trunked system for about 12 years, and it worked well after the Pentagon was hit, he said.

Allen said Arlington County can program other jurisdictions' frequencies into its radio system.

All aboard

'It's become routine,' he said. 'Everybody has everybody's radio channels programmed around here.'

The county has installed an ACU-1000 modular switch to increase interoperability. The unit from JPS Communications Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., has digital signal processor cards that connect with many audio sources.

'We hooked up a bunch of radios to it,' Allen said. 'You could be on any frequency or band, and it didn't matter.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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