The UAA Police Department has been awarded a $150,000 grant from the Alaska Department of Homeland Security. The money will be used to update dispatch equipment with the latest telephone and radio equipment, as well as install a new repeater for the system. The dispatch system handles all incoming emergency calls to the department as well as contacting officers to respond. A repeater is an amplification instrument that transmits signals to radios or other repeaters.
“The primary goal for this project is to have interoperability with our neighboring agencies; the Anchorage Police Department, the Anchorage Fire Department and the Alaska State Troopers,” University Police Department Chief Dale Pittman said.
Sgt. Ron Swartz said the UPD contacts the AFD almost once a day, any time that a fire alarm goes off in a UAA building. The APD is called a couple times a week, Swartz said.
“Sometimes we’ll need a tracking dog if a subject is eluding us,” Swartz said. “Or if an officer is working alone and needs backup, we’ll call the APD.”
The grant money is part of a federal fund established by the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11 to create interoperability between emergency agencies. During the terrorist attacks, all of the different agencies responding to the World Trade Center had their own radio systems, and none of them could talk directly with each other or establish a central command or coordination channel. UPD originally applied for $588,000 for equipment upgrades, but was awarded only $150,000.
“There was only two million dollars up for grabs and around 20 agencies with requests for funding,” Pittman said. “I’m not sure what the process was for choosing the ‘winners’ but my guess is that they tried to give each agency some money.”
The choice to upgrade the dispatch equipment and repeater were made after Pittman spoke with board members from Alaska Land Mobile Radio, as well as local dealers of Motorola radio equipment.
“The primary focus was the equipment that will connect us to the ALMR system,” Pittman said.
According to the ALMR website, the problems associated with non-interoperability are not restricted to terrorist attacks, and the effects are felt in Alaska every year.
Natural disasters have occurred in the past that were not easily addressed due in part to the lack of interoperable radio communication systems between responding federal, state and local public safety agencies. The ALMR website states they are committed to providing a wireless, cost effective public safety interoperable communications system for all of Alaska.
The ALMR is a communication system that meets the requirements of the federal government, the Alaska Municipal League and the State of Alaska for two-way radio emergency communications in Alaska.
“The upgrades will require extra training for the dispatchers,” Swartz said.
Though the primary equipment now has the funding to be replaced, more upgrades are still needed.
“Homeland Security should have another round of grant funding next year and UPD will apply for the remaining items at that time,” Pittman said.
These remaining items include replacement of all handheld and mobile radios, a second repeater and a recorder for phone lines and radio channels. Nevertheless, Pittman is optimistic that the new equipment this year will greatly benefit UAA and Anchorage.
“Once the system is up and running UPD will have direct radio contact with APD and our two agencies can more efficiently coordinate when responding to emergencies,” Pittman said.