Heath is working with Licking County to ensure its new radio system would work as a backup to the county's 911 call center.

Heath is working with Licking County to ensure its new radio system would work as a backup to the county's 911 call center.

Heath Mayor Richard Waugh met with Licking County commissioners last week to discuss the city's new system, which currently can't send calls to fire departments in Mary Ann Township, Homer and Utica.

"Everyone is aware of it, and we're trying to resolve it quickly," Waugh said.

The county became involved because Heath serves as a backup for the county's 911 call center.

Heath police Chief Tony Shepherd is working with technicians from BearCom to correct the problem by getting software that would work with the three entities' older systems. Waugh compared it to getting a computer with Windows Vista to talk to a Pentium II processor.

Jeff Walker, director of Licking County Emergency Management Agency and 911 emergency operations, said each emergency agency or fire department uses a different tone. When setting up a new system, Walker said, it's like tuning a new guitar. All of the strings have to be tuned properly to get the right sound from a guitar. Similarly, all of the tones have to be set right in the emergency system so the right department is paged for each call in its jurisdiction.

Walker said the county loaned Heath its mobile command post -- a truck that contains a system that could contact Utica, Homer and Mary Ann Township.

"Most departments, if they have equipment that's five to seven years old, when you put in a new system you have to teach them how to communicate with each other," Walker said.

"They're still covered," Licking County Commissioner Mark Van Buren said. "Heath can still set tones. We were assured of that yesterday."

Shepherd said the city also could call Utica to dispatch emergency organizations in Utica, Homer or Mary Ann Township, if needed.

He said the city is working with BearCom, which installed Heath's new radio system, and D&R Communications, a vendor familiar with both systems. D&R might have a way to allow Heath's new system to communicate with the older systems, he said.

"D&R has engineered something that will allow us to send tones (communicate with) to them," Shepherd said.

Walker said D&R sells encoders, which cost about $200 and ensure that both systems could work together.

"If there's a severe incident (and the county's system fails), they (Heath) take over," Walker said.

He said officials test the backup system twice a year.

"Twice a year we go out there and operate for eight hours and make sure all the pieces and parts give the same service," Walker said.