October 26, 2011 Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that the final pilot for a Multi-Band Radio initiative is complete. The state of the art radios are expected to be available to first-responder agencies in May 2012, which is good news for the city of Chicago’s first responders and citizens.
Chicago was the last of four large cities to test the Harris XG-100 Unity radio system, the first of its kind which allows first responders who use different radio bandwidths to communicate using the same wavelength without involving a third party.
“The final pilot in Chicago provides the opportunity to integrate all we have learned in previous tests and provide the updated multi-band radio to Chicago’s finest for testing,” said Tom Chirhart, Program Manager for S&T’s Multi-Band Radio Program.”
One of the “lessons-learned” immediately followimg the 9/11 terrorist attacks was that the 800 MHz radios did not work inside the World Trade Center buildings, in the basement parking garages, in collapsed structures, or during heavy radio traffic. First responders on the scene after the attack at the Pentagon, who were trained to use interoperable systems had much greater success with response efforts.
Feedback and suggestions from first responder communities in Chicago, Miami, Phoenix and New Orleans will be incorporated into the radio’s design, according to The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) officials.
Participants in the pilot included the Chicago police, fire and emergency-management departments; the Illinois State Police; the Cook County Sherriff’s Department, FEMA; and the Illinois Mutual Aid Box Alarm System.
The Harris multi-band radio was the second model tested and evaluated with the support of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology. (S&T) The first model was the Thales Communications’ Liberty radio. Multiple systems including analog, conventional, digital and Project 25 were considered. The pilot program focused:
“specifically on meeting the requirements of the fire service because of the unique environment in which they work,” Chirhart said.
Critics argued that the multi-band radios are unnecessary, costly and that jurisdictions operate perfectly fine with single-band radios, and ask “why carry two radios?”
The cutting edge multi-band radio system’s ability to be dispatched to other jurisdictions in large events like 9/11 make the investment worthwhile. DHS Science &Technology Program Manager, Tom Chirhart says he does not believe that multiband radios are the answer to interoperability or the magic bullet for all interoperability. However, he believes it’s a great tool in the toolbox.