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New radios will boost emergency response

A new 300-foot communications tower sprouted at the Uvalde County Road Department just north of the city is expected to help mitigate a long-standing problem with emergency communications across our mountain-studded county.

Not only is the tower about 100 feet higher than the outdated structure that sits atop Kennedy Mountain near Walmart, but improvements in antennas and coaxial cable over the last 30 years will further boost the efficiency of radio communications.

The $300,000 tower project was funded through a $219,000 grant from the Texas Water Development Board, part of the Flood Infrastructure Fund project (the county paid $81,000). It will help ensure that early flood warning monitors installed four years ago at river sites across the county, as well in adjoining counties, are able to effectively transmit data.

A separate $4.3 million grant from Operation Lone Star will provide an enormous lift to the county’s first responders. Included in that work is the installation of a 60-foot antenna atop the Uvalde Police Department, which will provide vertical and horizontal separation from surrounding oak trees. New filters and coax will further enhance communications.

Uvalde County Emergency Management coordinator Forest Anderson also described the planned installation of “links” at various locations throughout the county, which will rebroadcast and strengthen radio signals into places like Utopia and Batesville that are separated by terrain and distance.

Perhaps more importantly, in view of the radio failures inside Robb Elementary during the May 24, 2022, attack, campuses in the Uvalde school district are being equipped with dual band amplifier systems. The technology employs an antenna outside of each facility that redirects the signal and re-amplifies it inside the building. It follows the same process in reverse when those inside attempt to broadcast outside the walls.

According to Anderson, that work is underway in Uvalde and will eventually include school districts throughout the region. Once completed, personnel at individual campuses and emergency responders will be expected to perform daily radio checks to ensure that the system is functioning as designed.

Anderson said people need to become familiar with the radios to gain confidence in their use. “You have to use them, to know the voices, know the people … and when the honeymoon period is over, don’t stick them [radios] in a drawer.”

Uvalde County and seven other counties – Zavala, Real, Dimmit, Edwards, Kinney, La Salle, Maverick and Val Verde – are being supplied with new trunk radios, which work off of WiFi, cellular or VHF (very high frequency). The radios toggle seamlessly between the signals, depending on which is available.

The upgrades are expected to be completed by the end of August, which coincides with the beginning of the new school year.

Reliable radio communication is essential for first responders to do their jobs with speed and accuracy. On May 24 we witnessed what the absence of communications do to a police response. The projects underway should help ensure that scenario never repeats itself.