Maryland lays groundwork to merge first-response systems statewide

Federal agencies must help their state and local counterparts establish interoperable systems for emergency communications, Maryland IT officials say.

'We can't achieve interoperability with the feds' without their help, said John Contestabile, director of engineering, procurement and emergency services for the Maryland Transportation Department and chairman of a team that recently completed a state plan to address communications interoperability issues. 'I think we could use a little more leadership from them on interoperability.'

In the works for more than a year, the plan includes both recommendations for short-term steps to improve communications and long-term strategies for more sweeping solutions.

Gov. Robert Erhlich Jr. has included $11 million in his fiscal 2006 budget for interoperability, and the first phase of the plan calls for a total of $20 million to $30 million to be spent over the next six years.

Within the next three years, the state would spend some of the funds to integrate existing regional communications systems, including the Central Maryland Area Radio Communication, Maryland Eastern Shore Interoperability Network and Maryland Incident Management Interoperable Communications System programs. This will provide voice interoperability to most of the state.

The state is looking at installing TAC-stacks, communications arrays that can link VHF, UHF and other frequency bands in existing communications towers throughout Maryland, said Earl Lewis Jr., assistant secretary of Transportation and assistant chairman of the report team.

'That was one of the objectives of the team, how we could use existing infrastructure and current projects,' Lewis said.

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