Mobile Radio Buy Sparks Talk Of Reverse 911 System

Shawn J. Soper
News Editor

OCEAN CITY – Ocean City officials this week approved the purchase of new mobile radios for the police department, but not before a discussion about the town’s reverse 911 call capabilities in the event of a storm or other disaster.

The Ocean City Mayor and Council on Tuesday approved the purchase of eight new mobile radios and the associated equipment to replace aging models, some of which are nearly 20 years old, in several Ocean City Police Department cruisers. The cost of the eight new mobile radios came in at just under $29,000, which is slightly higher than what was budgeted because a new model had been introduced since the purchase was planned.

Before the elected officials voted on the seemingly innocuous purchase request, Councilman Jim Hall questioned whether the new mobile radios were needed at this time, considering the tight economic situation.

“Is there a time when we have the car-mounted radios and the officer is equipped with a radio and mike?” he asked. “It just seems like we’re overlapping with this and I guess my question is, why are we doing this twice. It’s kind of like we have our home phones and our cell phones.”

However, Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald explained there is a difference in the wattage between the hand-held radios and those mounted in the vehicles, and that the different radios monitor different frequencies. He also explained most of the current in-car radios are about 17 years old.

The discussion about the new radios for the police department touched off a larger talk about the town’s reverse 911 capabilities. Councilman Doug Cymek raised the question in reference to Hurricane Earl.

“During the last big storm event, I saw where certain areas of North Carolina reached out to its citizens with emergency information using a reverse 911 system,” he said. “Do we have that capability? Are we set up for that?”

Theobald explained the town did have the capability to reach out to most residents with landlines through a reverse 911 system. However, the system has never been used in a real-time situation.

“If and when we do use it, it will be the very first time we’ve used it,” he said.

City Manager Dennis Dare explained one of the problems with the reverse 911 system is it doesn’t reach cell phones.

“One of the issues for us is it doesn’t get to the transient population,” he said. “The technology is available to reach cell phones, but FCC regulations prohibit it.”