OUR OPINION: New E-911 system links into statewide network

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Lee County Board of Supervisors’ authorization Monday to issue up to $8.5 million in bonds for a new E-911 communications system reflects the costs of high technology to keep all the necessary parties in touch when disaster strikes. Such situations require certainty in linking the 1,328 official radios using the emergency services operating in Lee County, plus the statewide system called MSWIN – Mississippi Wireless Integrated Network.
Yes, it’s expensive, and will require a small tax increase, but the system to be replaced is 20 years old, 10 years past life expectancy. The new system, a Motorola product, will provide emergency coverage for all parts of Lee County and link into the statewide system. The new system will eliminate what’s called “shadows” where coverage is patchy and unreliable.
Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson, who is a commissioner on the board overseeing E-911 in Lee County, said discussions started 12 years ago about a new system, two years before the normal life expectancy of the current system elapsed. Thompson said the new system is designed to meet county needs for 10 years.
Urgency was added to establishing and completing MSWIN when, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated coastal Mississippi and stretched far inland, in the process destroying emergency communications.
So far, $140 million has been invested by federal sources in building the new statewide system, starting on the coast, moving into central Mississippi, and now into the northern third of the state.
“Hurricane Katrina taught us valuable lessons, one of the most important being the need for emergency responders to be able to communicate with each other,” U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Jackson, said in a 2010 news conference.
The third phase will include 47 tower sites in northern Mississippi.
Thompson said it is probable that the advanced radios for the new system will be purchased first because they are operable on the existing system, then “flip a switch” to activate and use the new system’s equipment when it is fully installed. Training, as needed, is included in the purchase price, which is expected to be somewhat less than $8 million.
Hurricane Katrina proved the necessity of a reliable, durable and compatible statewide emergency system. As then Gov. Haley Barbour noted, after Katrina it was not possible to communicate with some areas hit by the storm, requiring eyewitness checks even before the storm fully exited Mississippi.
MSWIN should meet Mississippi’s need for the next decade.