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Mich. county boosts public safety with $61M 911 overhaul

Oakland County said the county’s P25 replaces the 20-year-old radio system it had and will support faster response times and more robust connections


File photo.

Photo/Rob Lawrence

By Peg McNichol
Daily Tribune, Royal Oak, Mich.

ROYAL OAK, Mich. — A $61 million investment has improved Oakland County emergency radio system and dispatch operations.

The money paid for 6,379 Motorola radios and upgrades to 20 dispatch centers across the county as part of a Project 25 initiative. P25 is shorthand for a common set of digital public safety communication standards.

County Executive Dave Coulter said the county’s P25 replaces the 20-year-old OpenSky radio system and will support faster response times and more robust connections.

He made the announcement Wednesday afternoon at Southfield’s Donald F. Fracassi Municipal Campus, along with county and municipal officials.

The county’s P25 connects 41 fire departments in the county, 34 police agencies, seven public safety agencies, and 20 dispatch centers to the statewide Michigan Public Safety Communication System. Others who can use the network include animal control officers, corrections officers and court-assigned deputies.

Coulter said most of the $61 million comes from the 911 surcharge on people’s phone bills; county commissioners added $5 million from the general fund.

Sheriff Mike Bouchard said lack of communication during major incidents like the 9/11 attack and Hurricane Katrina led to deaths.

The new handheld radios have a GPS locator with an emergency button for an officer who needs help but can’t speak, a recording system that records all radio traffic, and two additional channels.

“By having the ability to hear neighboring jurisdictions and respond in real-time, officers can communicate with each other directly providing an appropriate response and collaboration during major events,” said Southfield Police Chief Elvin Barren .

Southfield police Lt. Teresa Young likened the old system to “two tin cans and a string,” adding that before the upgrade, some police officers lost radio contact within city limits.

Farmington Hills Fire Chief Jon Unruh said the P25 system will “help to ensure firefighter safety while working in hazardous conditions.”

Coulter said P25 will support security for such large regional events as the public NFL Draft coming to Detroit April 25 through 27 , which is expected to draw tens of thousands of fans.

While Southfield’s dispatch center was being renovated, the city’s dispatchers worked out of a Pontiac 911 center and were able to sign into the P25 software to access all of Southfield’s maps and other data, said Meredith Morgan , Southfield’s civilian operations manager.

Commissioner Penny Luebs said the board approved the funding when the pandemic was underway.

“We know that the health of our community is directly related to how well our first responders can provide services to those experiencing an emergency,” she said.

The police radio communications will continue to be encrypted, said Bouchard, who said that is an important security feature. He said his department will continue following the law for Freedom of Information requests for 911 audio.


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