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MetroSafe radio system will begin in April

By Dan Klepal
The Courier-Journal

By Dan Klepal
The Courier-Journal

Metro Louisville is about to take its final big step in developing a new digital communications system.

Construction of three 200-foot towers for the MetroSafe radio system will begin in April — the first visible evidence that the $70 million investment in public safety is closer to becoming reality.

When fully operational in summer 2009, MetroSafe will allow unlimited channels for communication by police, firefighters and paramedics, and by non-emergency metro government employees who need to talk with one another daily.

Better communication can help police catch criminals, keep firefighters from getting lost in smoky buildings and save patients being transported to a hospital

The radio antennas, microwaves and electronic equipment that will make up the backbone of the system are now being assembled and tested by Motorola, the city's vendor, at one of its facilities in Illinois.

That equipment should begin arriving in Louisville for assembly in late March, said Public Works Director Ted Pullen.

"You don't see it yet, but there's a lot going on and we are dead on schedule," Pullen said.

The new towers will join nine that are part of the existing communications system. They are being upgraded with generators, electronics and shelters to house it all.

In addition, the former Federal Reserve Bank at 410 S. Fifth Street is being prepared to become the new emergency communications center.

All of that work is part of a $22.8 million contract with Motorola, signed last May.

Paul Barth, fire chief of the McMahan Fire Protection District and president of the Jefferson County Fire Chief's Association, said the system is important because it will allow firefighters to talk with police and Emergency Medical Services personnel daily.

It also will allow suburban firefighters to communicate with Metro Louisville firefighters.

Barth said he'll be glad to see those new towers rise.

"The towers are kind of like the final part, next to putting the radio in our hands," he said. "It's taken some time to get there. But we've all been very patient because we know it'll be a top-of-the-line system."

The first phase of MetroSafe started in fall 2005, creating a combined dispatch and call-taking center on Barret Avenue.

The second phase of the project, completed in June 2006, built a unified computer system, allowing dispatchers to talk with all first-responding agencies. It also allows agencies to talk with one another through a "bridge" that is effective, if inefficient.

Barth called them "band-aids" that can waste valuable seconds during an emergency.

The current phase will expand the radio frequency coverage, allow for greater clarity of conversations and bring nearly unlimited, instantaneous communication between agencies.

MetroSafe Director Doug Hamilton has said the system will save lives by reducing response times to emergencies and allowing more consistently clear and uninterrupted talk between emergency personnel.

But a new radio system won't solve all the problems, said Craig Willman, president of the Louisville Professional Fire Fighters union, Local 345.

He said there aren't enough dispatchers, which forces them to work "gross" amounts of overtime.

"While it's exciting to see new things being physically built, I'm more concerned about the inner workings of the people running dispatch," Willman said. "Physical projects aren't the true measure of how these things work."

Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson included $22 million in this year's budget to pay for this third phase of the project.

Motorola was selected as the vendor during a bidding process that culminated in May. The bids were evaluated by a team of department heads led by independent adviser Roger Schipke, a retired senior vice president at General Electric.

Schipke said Motorola will give first responders a state-of-the-art system that will "significantly improve their ability to meet any emergency."

Reporter Dan Klepal can be reached at (502) 582-4475.

Copyright 2005 The Courier-Journal.

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