Police and firefighters from Dallas and the Park Cities frequently respond to emergencies together, but run into problems when they need to talk on the radio.
“Even when you are on the scene together, it is still difficult,” said Rick Pyle, director of public safety for the town of Highland Park. “We all work off different frequencies.”
University Park Fire Chief Randy Howell put it this way, “We do not have communications with the city of Dallas unless we have a city of Dallas radio on hand.”
Solving that and other communication problems, including aging radio systems, will cost millions of dollars.
Estimates approach $6 million to $8 million for a new system. HP and UP could split that cost by creating a joint system or possibly save money by subscribing to another agency’s network.
Leaders of the two municipalities are looking at hiring consultant Black & Veatch Inc. to evaluate options, and if a joint system is preferred, design it. The governments would share the nearly $85,000 cost for the consultant.
While UP has a larger population, HP town administrator Bill Lindley said the Park Cities are geographically similar in size. HP is 2.2 square miles, UP 2.4.
A joint radio system could combine UP’s two towers with HP’s tower to provide greater reach and better penetration into spaces such as basements, where it’s difficult to broadcast, municipal leaders said.
“If you go underground, it’s difficult to get a radio system to work there,” Pyle said.
A joint system could potentially add SMU and Highland Park ISD as subscribers at some point, and would be Project 25 (P25) compliant. P25 digital communications standards aim to make sure local, state, and federal agencies can communicate with each other in a disaster.
Earlier this year, the HP Town Council authorized purchase of 16 Motorola portable radios for $130,141.
The radios come with improved durability and ability to transmit on alternative frequencies, but they cannot solve the biggest concern: HP’s existing radio system will soon become obsolete with replacement parts unavailable. UP is in a similar situation.
“It makes me a little nervous that we have an end-of-life system,” said Robbie Corder, UP city manager.
A few years ago leaders in the Park Cities were talking about joining Dallas in subscribing to a new countywide P25-compliant system, but such a system still appears to be at least three to five years away, Pyle said. “Dallas just didn’t look like it was going to be the answer we thought it was.”