Over the next year, the city of Waxahachie will be putting into place a new 700-megahertz digital radio system for the police and fire departments.

The new radio system was approved in this year’s city budget.

Waxahachie Police Chief Wade Goolsby said the new radio system will help to increase officer safety as the departments work with other departments on calls.

“Currently we are on an 800-megahertz radio system but none of the surrounding agencies are so we have had an issue with interoperability with our surrounding agencies. Most of them are on VHF,” Goolsby said. “Over the past few years, there has been a move for the entire Dallas/Fort Worth region to go to a 700-megahertz digital simulcast system. What that does is create a network where everybody is interoperable. To our west Midlothian, all the way to Fort Worth, is already on this system. So, as we enter into this system, we now have interoperability with everybody in that direction.”

Communications interoperability has been a problem for decades nationwide. A report conducted by President Lyndon Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice in the 1960s found that “in emergency situations that require mutual support, neighboring police departments cannot communicate because their radios operate on different frequencies.”

A 2002 National Criminal Justice Reference Service case study about the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing found similar circumstances. “With a large number of organizations and agencies taking part, communication was clearly an important, if problematic, aspect of response operations,” the report reads. “From the very beginning, responding police and fire personnel could not talk to federal agencies or one another.”

A National Institute of Justice report found that first responders faced similar situations during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City and identified five reasons why public safety personnel can’t talk with each other: incompatible and aging communications equipment, limited and fragmented funding, limited and fragmented planning, lack of coordination and cooperation, and limited and fragmented radio spectrum.  

Goolsby said the system is something that has been needed for years and will help first responders better coordinate resources on emergency calls.

“Not only will it provide much better coverage but it provides better coverage in buildings,” Goolsby said. “Every radio signal will be simultaneously transmitted from three different towers so you have signals coming in from three different directions versus one direction.”

Under the new system, it will be as simple as flipping a switch to where everybody is on a dedicated radio channel that is being used by multiple agencies on a call. Currently, Waxahachie officers have a second radio in their vehicle to speak with other agencies in the area.

Waxahachie Fire Chief Ricky Boyd shared Goolsby’s thoughts about the new digital system providing better communication and increased safety for firefighters.

“With the 800-megahertz system that we have, we have a lot of dead spots,” Boyd said. “We really only have one radio tower that operates all that but, with this 700-megahertz system, we will be joining Red Oak and Midlothian who each have a tower.

“We are going to be putting our equipment on a tower here so we will be able to have a lot more coverage,” he said, noting that the fire department works with other departments multiple times during the week. The department has been using a multi-band radio to be able to communicate with the other departments while on calls.

“The radios that we have been buying ever since I have been here are what is called multi-band radios,” Boyd said. “We have had the capability in the fire department to program to give us both 800- and 700-megahertz as well as VHF channels that our rural fire departments and Ennis are on.

“We have been able to program our radios for all those different agencies for years,” he said. “It is not clean and not as good as everybody being on 700-megahertz but it is workable. If you think about it this way what we have is like a patch on a pair of pants. It will work but it is not optimal.”

Work on the radio project for the city will take place over the next nine to 11 months, with Goolsby noting there is hardware to be ordered and equipment to be installed along with the planning.

“There are a lot of advantages to going to it for us,” Goolsby said. “It is something that has been needed for years and we are finally getting it. It is a big project but it is worthwhile.”

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