Getting their signals straight [The Sun, Yuma, Ariz.]
(Sun (Yuma, AZ) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 02--The Yuma Sector Border Patrol, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and Yuma Proving Ground joined with the area's other state and local law enforcement and public safety agencies for the first time on Tuesday to test their ability to communicate with one another during a disaster or other crisis.
According to Stephen Holland, the test was a culmination of two and a half years of a three-year Border Interoperability Demonstration Project (BIDP), that the city of Yuma has been in the process of implementing, as it adds more agencies to it's Yuma Regional Communications System (YRCS),
"Just because you use an interoperable emergency communications system, doesn't mean it is easy," said Holland, the project manager for YRCS and assistant information technology director for the city of Yuma. "What we wanted to see was, as more agencies get involved, how the information is being shared."
Holland explained that public safety agencies have historically depended on their own stand-alone radio communication systems for daily responses. The problem was that while these stand-alone radios systems worked well for the individual agencies, they were incompatible with radio systems of other agencies within the same area.
Now with the YRCS, Holland said all of the agency's radio systems are essentially linked together so that, with a simple flick of a switch, they can all communicate with one another.
This, he added, allows the various agencies to come into a situation and begin to respond quickly.
Also as part of Tuesday's exercise, YRCS planners wanted to update the Tactical Communications Interoperability Plan for Yuma County, which is essentially a field operations guide that all law enforcement officers and firefighters carry. It can also be sent electronically to laptops and smart phones.
"Basically this a procedural document on how the various agencies will respond, and what assets they have available," Holland said. "We are exercising the document because we want to identify the areas that work well, which areas may need some improvement and focus on strengthening them, whether it is through procedure or purchasing additional equipment."
Tuesday's exercise was designed to get all the participating agencies involved in some manner in responding to two fake scenarios, both of which began at the San Luis Port of Entry, and involved shots being fired.
In one of the scenarios a vehicle carrying 15 passengers headed up through Somerton and into Yuma before it eventually "crashed" into a fuel tanker from MCAS Yuma on the 4th Avenue bridge.
The other scenario involved a vehicle carrying drugs making it to Interstate 8 before eventually exiting the freeway and crashing near Wellton.
At the heart of the exercise, which was being held at the Emergency Operations Center, was the SIMCELL, where members of the various agencies sent in calls simulating routine events to dispatch centers, which in turn sent out the proper responses to those calls.
Amid all this, YRCS planners inserted the two make-believe scenarios. The officers, agents and firefighters who were participating, then used their various radio systems to react as if they were actually responding to the mock situation and scenes in real time.
Holland said each of the dispatch centers were also being evaluated.
Another element being tested during the exercise was a new computer-aided dispatch system, which sends the calls electronically to law enforcement vehicles and fire trucks via their onboard computers.
"An officer involved in a pursuit or responding to a scene isn't going to be looking at his computer, but he is always talking on the radio," Holland said. "With this they can see how the incident is progressing."
Since the U.S. Marshals Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigations provide mutual aid in the Yuma area each of those agencies will be radio connected to the YRCS, so they will each have the same capability in the near future.
While YRCS planners put the exercise together, the Office of Emergency Communication in Washington, D.C., helped facilitate the training.
The city of Yuma was awarded nearly $4 million in federal grant money, under the Office of Emergency Communications' (OEC) Border Interoperability Demonstration Project (BIDP), in 2010 to develop and implement an interoperable emergency communications system.
The BIDP was a one-time $25.5 million competitive grant program focused on developing interoperable emergency communications along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico that can be implemented in other border communities across the country as a means to strengthen their own communications capabilities.
Yuma was one of only seven communities or agencies chosen to receive money from the grant.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.
(c)2013 The Sun (Yuma, Ariz.)
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