PARKERSBURG - Emergency responders in Wood County and across the nation are expected to benefit from the first nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network.
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., authored the legislation and helped get it passed through the U.S. Congress this year.
Provisions of Rockefeller's legislation were signed into law in February. The law will build a broadband network enabling police, firefighters, EMS workers and other first responders to have access to advanced communications capabilities when responding to natural disasters or other crises.
Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, explained provisions of this legislation during a keynote speech Monday at the sixth annual West Virginia Statewide Interoperable Radio Conference in Kingwood.
"West Virginia's first responders our police officers, firefighters and EMS workers - courageously face danger each and every day in order to keep us safe," Rockefeller said. "They are heroes in our communities and do a great job. My bill brings state of the art technology into their work by making sure, especially during times of crisis, that first responders from all over can communicate with each other in real time.
''This new high-speed network will revolutionize communications among all emergency response officers and allow even more rapid, thorough, and safe action to protect our people."
Randy Lowe, Wood County 911 director, said he attended meetings statewide as Rockefeller was putting together information for this system.
''Right now, it is still in the beginning stages,'' Lowe said.
The system, which isn't expected to come into fruition for several years, will allow emergency responders to talk to each over and pass data securely over one frequency, Lowe said.
Agencies can do that to a certain extent now, but the public networks they use can become bogged down under certain circumstances with so much usage coming from other sources. This new system is supposed to allow communications to flow more easily between first responders, especially during a crisis situation, he said.
To accommodate this system, Lowe said more communication towers will have to be built, which can benefit the public because communications systems used by the public can be put on these towers in addition to emergency systems.
''The public will be able to have more broadband and wireless coverage,'' he said.
West Virginia has a network of audio/data towers for emergency communications, which is still being worked on. Any federal plan will "include the state plan and build it out,'' Lowe said.
''It will take a while to get it up and running, but it has to start somewhere,'' Lowe said. ''This is a good start.''