CLEBURNE (CBSDFW.COM) – Communications is vital to law enforcement and emergency first responders. Radio traffic dispatches personnel where they’re needed, warns crews of dangers and updates command centers about what is going on at a scene. But when crews are sent out of their jurisdiction to help, like during the recent tornado in Cleburne, their radios are almost useless.

“When they had first responders coming in from outside Cleburne, for instance, Mansfield, they had problems communicating because they’re not on the same radio system,” said Fort Worth Information Security Manager, Alan Girton.

From emergency medical agencies to dozens of police departments, North Texas air waves are cluttered with people talking. But they’re not talking to each other. If a city sends emergency personnel to help another city, the visiting walki-talkies have to be completely reset

“You’ve go to sit down with a programmer, you have to have a list of local frequencies,” said Gary Gregg who deals with applying technology for the Euless Police Department. “So, there’s a delay. You have to figure out how to get the guys coming in to talk to the people who are there.”

But now, Fort Worth is giving nearly 20 different agencies a common place to talk through new high-tech hardware. For a monthly fee, all the other agencies’ radio towers will be able to link through this one connection, or switch. Agencies upgrade their radios to tie into the central system. And then, for instance, a Euless police officer giving chase across city lines can simply hit a button on the radio and talk to dispatchers in other cities as he goes. And, Euless dispatchers can still talk to the Euless officer as far away as Johnson County.

“By connecting all of these sites through a single switch it gives us the capabilities of being able to communicate with each other, sometimes use each others back-ups in case we have problems,” said Girton.

Fort Worth will host 15 or more agencies in an area ranging from Northeast Tarrant County to west Johnson County when its system comes on line in coming months. And they’re just beginning to tap into the system’s potential.

“We now have the ability to coordinate from different locations,” Gregg said. “We’re going from analog to digital communications. So that opens up messaging, GPS.”

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