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Posted: December 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Newton emergency radios now connected

Ribbon cutting Thursday

Photo by Mandi Singer/

All connected: Covington - Newton County 911 Communications Center Director Mike Smith welcomes guests to the Go Live Ceremony for the Covington - Newton County Public Safety Radio Network Wednesday afternoon.

After years of labor, an idea for a better way of communicating between different agencies that began after the public safety disaster that was 9/11, was officially completed and welcomed into the county.

The Open Sky Radio Network is the result of a 2-and-a-half-year project build-out that cost $4.5 million dollars and was funded by a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax allocation approved by Newton County residents. The system was built by Tyco Electronics of Roswell.

"It’s a lot of money, but right now it seems that is very trivial compared to what we’ve got," said Newton County Chairman Aaron Varner.

Though the system has been operational since August, the official ribbon-cutting for it was held on Wednesday at the Newton County 911 Center with State Homeland Security Director Charlie English as the guest speaker.

English applauded the gathered local public safety heads and elected officials for their long-term vision in approving the system saying "it’s a celebration for the state of Georgia."

According to James Potter, the designer of the Open Sky system and an area sales manager for Tyco, the Open Sky Radio Network is one of the most sophisticated radio systems in the state, providing seamless interoperability between public agencies.

"It allows every single agency to talk with each other by a single turn of a knob on the radio," Potter said, adding that prior to the system, communication between various public safety departments was a cumbersome thing, requiring police officers and firefighters to carry with them multiple radios in order to talk with one another.

It was this kind of unwieldy communication system that was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of New York firefighters and paramedics during 9/11 when the radio message to evacuate the World Trade Centers because they were about to collapse failed to reach them in time to save their lives.

Every police officer and road deputy in the county now carries an Open Sky radio with them as do all county and city firefighters and public works department employees. The radios are equipped with GPS tracking systems so that their users can be located quickly in the event of an emergency. The radios also allow their carriers to call out to surrounding counties and state agencies for assistance.

Mike Smith, director of Newton County 911, said that Newton County was one of the only counties in the entire state to have achieved such a degree of interoperability between its public safety departments.

"We have delivered on the mandate," said Smith of the SPLOST allocation that voters approved years ago. "We did our due diligence. We were able to save [many] dollars by levying existing infrastructure."

In building the system Tyco made use of existing infrastructure to wire the network so that only one new communications tower had to be built by Snapping Shoals EMC.

"Everything else was leveraged from existing water towers," Potter said.

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