County to help finance integrated communications for emergency services |

County to help finance integrated communications for emergency services

Kathy Heicher/Eagle Correspondent

For years now, Eagle Valley emergency service providers have been plagued by an inability to communicate, in the technical sense.

The Eagle County commissioners agreed this week to fund about 25 percent of a $909,000 computer system that will allow law officers and fire departments, to tap into each other’s information systems. The system will use mobile computers in officers cars and computer software that can access records at all of the agencies.

Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy said the integrated system offers the benefits of streamlining service while improving officer safety. What the agencies are striving for is a single communication system that integrates not only law enforcement records, but dispatch calls as well.

“Every agency will be on the same page,” said Hoy.

An agency task force has been working for the past year toward an integrated dispatch and records management system. Hoy said the task force first looked at the current systems owned by each agency, considering the advantages of familiarity and potential cost savings. None of those systems were deemed as effective as a county-wide system. The sheriff said his department’s current communication system is currently lagging about three years behind in upgrades necessary to get it operating a at full capacity.

Paul Smith of Vail Dispatch told the commissioners that the local agencies have been frustrated by the inability to communicate across boundaries. For example, he said, an Avon police officer making a traffic stop in his town wouldn’t necessarily know that the suspect may have been involved in a recent rash of crimes in an adjacent jurisdiction. One of the problems the agencies have struggled with is a lack of standardized information.

With the new system, an Avon policeman would be able to use a laptop computer in his vehicle to find out whether a suspect had been contacted by another agency.

He said the current communications system along the I-70 corridor is “fragmented”. Information sent from dispatch doesn’t necessarily go into the sheriff’s office computer system. Officers would have to physically transcribe that information and input it into the computer.

Smith told the commissioners the new system will also help fire departments to manage information more effectively. For example, dispatch reports will be tied into a geographic information system, making it possible to notify the nearest agency to respond to a problem.

“It improves public safety. We are effectively sending the closest resources,” said Smith.

The cost of the integrated communications system will be split among various agencies, including the Vail, Avon,, Eagle and Minturn police departments and the various fire departments, depending on the size of the agency and the amount of use they would get out of the system. Hoy asked the commissioners to contribute $235,000 to the effort. The sheriff’s department has an additional $131,000 earmarked in its budget for communications.

After some questions, the commissioners agreed to the funding request, while emphasizing that the $235,00 was a one-time contribution to help jump-start the program.

“This is a valuable asset to have. The ability to share quicker, better, and more accurate information is very valuable,” said Commissioner Michael Gallagher.

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