ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The infrastructure for Maryland's emergency radio system is up and running for the eastern half of the state, but some counties aren't signing on until they're guaranteed a voice in how it's managed.
The House of Delegates voted unanimously Friday to create a radio system governing board with county representatives working alongside state members.
"It's kind of like putting the roof on a house that's been built," said Clay Stamp, director of Talbot County's emergency operations.
A parallel bill is pending in the Senate.
The system allows police, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency workers to communicate smoothly from anywhere in the network. Officials say this will help in both disasters and daily operations.
Most of the large jurisdictions, like Baltimore City, will maintain their own radio systems but will plug into the state's network as a backup, Stamp said.
But rural counties, including Talbot and several others that share a radio system on the Eastern Shore, might switch to full dependence on the state's system. Otherwise, some will need to spend serious money upgrading their own aging systems, Stamp said.
"What is at stake here is the ability of police officers to call for help when they're in trouble," Stamp said.
These smaller counties want to be sure they'll have influence in the system management before switching to it, though.
Gov. Martin O'Malley sponsored the bill the House passed Friday. It would set up a board with five governor-appointed regional representatives covering all of Maryland. Several other board members would represent the state government.
The board will establish standard operating procedures, such as who will use individual channels and for what purposes, said Robin Clark, a policy analyst for the Maryland Association of Counties.
The board also would resolve conflicts and advise the state on any future expansions.
The system went online in 2012 in six counties surrounding Baltimore City. By December it was running on the Eastern Shore. It has three more regions to go, and western Maryland is scheduled to get coverage last, in 2016.
Maj. Ken Hasenei of the Maryland State Police recently told a Senate committee that troopers have reported clearer radio sound and fewer dead spots since switching to the state system. He said this would help in situations like last month's shooting at the Columbia mall, where police and paramedics came in from several areas.