Government has signed a $5.9 million contract with Motorola Solutions to provide the territory with what officials say will be “the most advanced and modern radio system in the Caribbean.”
The new system will replace “outdated” analog radios with digital radios that have the capacity for features such as GPS location, text messaging and encryption, said Home Affairs Minister Tara Rivers at a press conference Thursday.
Chief Fire Officer David Hails said that the new devices will improve the safety of his officers by eliminating “black spots” in certain parts of Cayman where analog radio reception is weak. Mr. Hails said his department also experiences weak reception in large, concrete buildings, which sometimes forces them to resort to mobile phones for communication.
GPS tracking is another potential life-saving measure in the case of an endangered or downed officer, said Hazard Management Deputy Director Lee Madison.
Additionally, cellphones can be integrated into the system so that “ministers and others can be in contact with network without carrying [a handheld device],” said Mr. Madison.
The new radios will still be able to communicate with analog devices, he said.
Some 1,000 new handheld devices and other radio equipment will replace old gear at the 911 dispatch center and all other emergency-response agencies. The current radios will be repurposed for other government departments that don’t need the new technology, said Mr. Madison.
Before the system goes online, Motorola will be performing initial testing on it in March, with the final testing being conducted in either August or September, he said.
Along with discussing the new radio system, Mr. Hails also addressed the long-standing problem of the Cayman Islands Fire Service being on a different dispatch system than police and ambulance services.
A 2014 review of the fire services found that emergency calls to the Cayman Islands Fire Service were being unacceptably delayed by the department’s systems for handling calls. When a 911 call for fire service is received by the 911 center, it is passed to the fire service control room at the airport fire station. The call is logged by hand and then the nearest fire station is mobilized to answer the call, according to the report.
For some reason, the fire service does not use the 911 computer aided dispatch system used by the local police and ambulance services.
“This is not only inefficient, but also results in an unacceptable delay in processing an emergency call,” the report found. “There is also the possibility of inaccuracies being introduced as information taken from the primary source is indirectly passed to operational crews.”
Mr. Hails said on Thursday that “in the very near future,” the fire stations will be called directly from the 911 center. He said that officers are currently being trained for this, and that the change should go into effect before the new radio system comes onstream.