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New communications system dedicated
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Supervisors Chairman Debra Buchanan tries out equipment for the new communications system with Wes Ashley, director of the 911 center, at Thursday's dedication of the system. (Bulletin photo)

Friday, May 22, 2009

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A new communications system more than a decade in the making was dedicated Thursday, paving the way for better communications between law enforcement, fire, rescue and public safety officials.

"911, how do you copy," Debra Buchanan, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, asked a dispatcher in the 911 Communications Center. Minutes later, Buchanan said the new emergency was now in service.

The system replaces an outdated one that offered limited or no coverage in several parts of the county. Officers responding to an area with spotty coverage were unable to communicate with other officers or emergency personnel, Public Safety Director Dale Wagoner said.

The old, one-tower system also "was prone to interference" and hard to repair because parts were not readily available, he said.

Now, there are four towers - one each in Bassett, Axton, Chestnut Knob and Ferndale - and the new system uses a microwave network that allows the other towers to continue working if one tower is not, he said.

The new system is a "considerable improvement" over technology available in the 1980s, when the former system was put in use, Wagoner said.

It also is compatible with other jurisdictions and can be expanded to provide service for many years to come, he said.

"Communication, in our line of work, is critical," said Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry. "It's so important, it's even respected by criminals."�

Many times after an arrest, Perry said he has been told someone might try to outrun a law enforcement officer, "but you can't outrun Motorola," Perry said he was told.

Motorola is the brand of radios used in many emergency vehicles.

"Communication makes us literally everywhere," Perry said, and the new system also allows officers to better serve residents.

This "is a vast improvement from what we have had and we're thankful," the sheriff said.

Fire and rescue departments and public safety also will use the new system, Wagoner said.

Marcus Stone, president of the Rescue Association, said the system will allow agencies to work together better to better serve the community.

Andy Nester, president of the Martinsville-Henry County Fire Association, said he looks forward to "having a great communication system for years to come."�

Wes Ashley, director of the 911 Center, also praised the county's efforts in getting the new system in place.

Dispatchers, he said, often did not know if an emergency responder was in trouble or in a spot with no service if they could not be reached by radio.

"Thank you" from the dispatchers, Ashley said to county officials.


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