Delaware County 911 levy: 'Solid radio system for first responders' is key

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek
Delaware Fire Department Capt. Tim Pyle talks on the radio in a department vehilce. More than 1,200 radios – both vehicle-mounted and handheld – used by first responders across Delaware County were provided by the countywide 911 system that has a renewal operating levy on the Nov. 3 ballot.

The police, fire and EMS departments in Delaware County communicate using more than 1,200 radios, all of them provided by the countywide 911 system that has a renewal operating levy on the Nov. 3 ballot. 

The radios let all first responders maintain communication with their departments, 911 dispatchers, other departments and other units, during both regular patrols and emergencies, said county emergency-communications director Patrick Brandt.

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Such support from the 911 system is vital to local first responders, said John Donahue, Delaware city fire chief and chairman of the 911 board.

The 911 system "ensures operability of all of our radios not only here in Delaware County but also throughout central Ohio and the state," Donahue said.

The statewide Multi-Agency Radio Communication System, known as MARCS, makes radio systems compatible for all participating agencies, he said. 

As a result, Donahue said, if local first responders travel outside the county to provide support when disasters hit other areas, they can communicate with both their home departments and other first responders on the scene. 

Brandt said the vehicle-based and handheld radios used by all first responders in the county were purchased with 911-system operating funds.

After voters approved an earlier 911 operating levy renewal in 2016, Brandt said, the 911 system launched a program to replace all handheld radios in the county.

Now the 911 system plans a program to replace all vehicle-based radios, some of which date to 2004, Brandt said.

The project is estimated to cost about $2 million, he said.

Additionally, the system plans to add a channel for all the radios to ensure adequate communication continues, Brandt said. That project is expected to cost about $500,000, he said.

Brandt said the 911 system's modern technology is essential to providing rapid communication that can help save lives during emergencies. 

That kind of fast communication didn't always exist, he said.

Brandt said his uncle, Tom Brandt, became a Columbus police office in the early 1970s, when officers who wanted to contact the police station had to use a phone booth. 

The 911 levy also will allow upgrades to 12 radio-tower facilities scattered around the county that support the emergency communications network, Donahue said.

The upgrades will ensure "that as the county continues to grow, those towers are kept up to date," he said.

"A solid radio system for first responders is the goal," he said. 

The 911 levy also would continue to support the system the county launched in 2019, allowing 911 dispatchers to receive text messages sent by cellphones, Brandt said. 

Those texting 911 during an emergency also receive text replies from 911 dispatchers, he said.

The system is designed to allow someone to seek help during an emergency when speaking isn't possible or the texter has reason to remain silent – something Brandt said could happen if safety is threatened.

Brandt said he experienced one such call firsthand when a woman in a traveling car texted 911.

"I was working at the center one night when we had a situation when the wife was calling 911 but keeping her phone silent and just letting us hear the background. ... She started texting us. You could hear the argument going on the vehicle," he said.

The woman was afraid for her safety and arguing with her husband, who was driving while intoxicated, Brandt said.

The woman gave 911 dispatchers a description of the car and its direction of travel, he said, and officers stopped the car.

"It was a good case where she was scared. You could tell she was scared for her life. She flat out tells us in the message she's scared," Brandt said.

The five-year levy, if voters approve, would renew the expiring 0.63-mill levy and add 0.05 mill, for a total of 0.68 mill.

The current levy was approved in November 2016 as a renewal and increase from 0.45 mill to 0.63 mill. It's collecting at a total effective rate of 0.55 mill, according to the Delaware County Auditor's Office.

Collection of the tax would begin in 2022. The levy would generate $4.5 million per year, according to the auditor's office.

Homeowners pay $17.63 annually per $100,000 of property value toward the current levy, which will expire at the end of 2021, according to the county. The levy's renewal would increase that by $1.75, for a $19.38 annual total. 

For more information, go to emergencycomms.co.delaware.oh.us.

Although Election Day is Nov. 3, overseas and military absentee voting began Sept. 18 and early in-person and mail-in absentee voting began Oct. 6, according to the Ohio Secretary of State's Office voting schedule.

Early in-person voting is held at the Delaware County Board of Elections offices, 2079 U.S. Route 23 North.

Weekday hours for the vote center are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 26-30. Hours will be 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 2.

The vote center also will be open 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1.

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