Local News

Emergency Personnel Want Private Lines Of Communication

Posted December 28, 2001

— Communication is the key during any emergency, especially major incidents like Sept. 11. A lot of those calls for help went out on special police and fire radio frequencies. Some people in the emergency profession want those lines of communications to be private.

Since Oct. 1, Johnston County fire, EMS, and part of the Sheriff's Department have communicated with a digital 800 megahertz radio system, a system that cannot be monitored by scanners.

"We are certainly not in the business of trying to keep people out of the system. We just want to protect the public safety, and to do that, we felt privacy was critical," said Johnston County Manager Rick Hester.

Mickey Lamm, news director at WMPM radio in Smithfield, and some other members of the local media, have protested the new radios. He said he is missing important news and so is the public.

"I feel like the public has been let down because this is taxpayers' money at use, and taxpayers' money is going to provide a secret radio system for Johnston County government officials to use," he said.

Johnston County leaders contend all dispatch calls remain analog, so they can still be monitored. It is the car-to-car transmissions they want kept quiet.

"It's possible that criminals could be listening to conversations and know that a deputy could be two minutes away instead of 10," Hester said.

Amateur radio buff Paul Dunn has been listening to scanner traffic for years. He understands the county's need to upgrade radios, but he said he is disappointed with the secrecy.

"People choose to be volunteer firemen because they listened to their parents' scanners when they were growing up, and they joined the rescue squad because of that," he said. "You're going to see a lot less of it because people won't have a chance to listen."

This is a decision all police and fire departments will have to make as they upgrade their radios. Some choose to give out codes so media can actually purchase radios to monitor traffic.

In Johnston County though, leaders feel if they open the door for media, they have to open the door for everyone, including criminals.

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