County to use grant for communications

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Denton County officials are looking to use a recently awarded grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to continue to enhance communications operations across the county and region.

County commissioners recently accepted the nearly $200,000 grant to make upgrades to the county mobile command center, the emergency operations center and the Sheriff’s Office SWAT team.

The key word is interoperability, said Jody Gonzales, county emergency management coordinator.

“At the end of the day, it is all going to come back to radio systems,” Gonzalez said. “If we’re talking emergency services, that’s our bread and butter to provide platforms in mobile vehicles or operations centers and provide communication from those emergency operations centers to Denton County responders or others.

“Can we communicate with any type of radio out there?”

The grant addresses part of that, although Gonzales said that because it is a phased process, officials are always working to stay on top of constantly evolving technology.

“For us, we operate an emergency operations center that covers over 30-something cities, and [we’re] one of the four for the region and serve as a backup [operations center] for different parts of the region.”

The grant originates with the Department of Homeland Security. It is handed down to the state, which hands it off to the North Central Texas Council of Governments to be managed.

A committee then discusses the needs and studies are conducted to see where and what money should be given to what agency, Gonzales said. And if funding is given to a specialized response team, it needs to be a team with the capability to respond regionally, not just within one jurisdiction, he said.

“Our specialty is communication; the city of Denton is hazardous material, bomb squad; Carrolton’s is swift-water rescue; Coppell ... technical rescue,” Gonzales said. “Those are the [types] of teams we look at to enhance their services.”

Commissioners also approved the closeout of the 2011 grant of the same type, which was split between four command posts in the region — Denton, Bedford, DeSoto and Burleson — to enhance radio systems, Gonzales said.

The next step forward is a system where users can talk and listen through a computer onto the official emergency services system.

Gonzales said users would be able to communicate even outside radio infrastructure. Currently, emergency services officials have to be somewhere in Denton County, but with the new system, that would change.

“Long range, you could talk through a smartphone or tablet through the radio system,” he said. “Forth Worth has a similar system and we’re trying to get to that technology.”

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter @BjlewisDRC.


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