Ray Lehr is the interoperability director for Maryland, which this year began implementing the First Responders Interoperable Radio System Team (Maryland FiRST), a statewide public safety radio network. The project allows Maryland to meet a January FCC deadline for moving public safety and “business industrial” land mobile radio systems to narrowband channels, and at the same time connect state agencies and local jurisdictions onto a single radio network.

What does the rollout of Maryland FiRST mean for the state?

The first order of magnitude was to get the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and one of our counties, Kent County, on the system as the first users. That was driven by the FCC deadline. Both agencies had to narrowband, which essentially means you have to replace a lot of your equipment and all of your radios to be more compact in how you use the spectrum that you get from the FCC. It’s an expensive upgrade from the regular systems.

So rather than have individual state agencies operating on different radio systems, and each one having a different life cycle and on different frequencies, Gov. Martin O’Malley put out an executive order that the state move toward one single radio system for all state agencies, as well as encourage local jurisdictions to join the state system.

Once the radio system is fully deployed, what kind of maintenance will be involved in keeping it operational?

Right now, a lot of the infrastructure we’re using — the radio towers and some of the buildings — are owned by individual agencies. So the state is working toward legislation that would create a state radio control board, which would create a governance body that would be responsible for the radio system operation and maintenance.

Are neighboring states able to connect to the system?

We’ve already engaged in discussions with Delaware and Virginia in two areas along the border of this first rollout. First responders will be able to communicate with surrounding counties for mutual aid events. We’ve also set wheels in motion to share interoperability frequencies with Washington, D.C., West Virginia and Pennsylvania, when adjoining counties come on in the next phase.

Do you think Maryland is ahead of the game in building out this statewide radio system?

Maryland was unable to deploy an 800 MHz radio system several years ago, but it continued to build towers in cooperation with local jurisdictions that are now available for this system. That forward thinking and the cooperation of the locals have made this deployment much smoother than if we were building new towers.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.