Alberta takes steps to improve communication between first responders

The government of Alberta says a new province-wide radio communications system will help first responders better communicate with each other during emergencies.

The Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System (AFRRCS) will provide coverage for first responders through a system of hundreds of radio towers. Right now, police, EMS and fire services in Alberta all use their own radio systems, which can make communication difficult.

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The province said the new system, which has been in the works since 2008, links all first responders which will lead to a more co-ordinated, quicker response.

The AFRRCS system was used during the Fort McMurray wildfire crisis. Radios were given to emergency personnel from across Alberta and Canada, which allowed firefighters to communicate with each other and the main operations centre.

Those who used it said the system played a pivotal and life-saving role in one of the province’s largest disasters.

“The AFRRCS was absolutely crucial for us and all of our partners as we battled the Fort McMurray wildfire. The system allowed us to communicate efficiently with 32 different fire departments during the biggest crisis in our region’s history,” Brad Grainger, deputy chief of the Fort McMurray Fire Department, said.

“Without AFRRC, we simply would not have been able to communicate effectively, meaning 90,000 of my neighbours, friends and colleagues would not have been able to be successfully evacuated.”

The system will be made available to emergency personnel starting July 1. However, it is voluntary and the province said not every organization will use the system.

The City of Calgary is not currently in conversation to use the system, but the City of Edmonton is.

Each organization that decides to use the system will be responsible for paying for the radios themselves. Accessing the system is free. Alberta Health Services, the RCMP and the provincial government are already onboard and have been testing the system for some time.

“Our work is done in all of our RCMP units across Alberta, and AFRRCS will provide radio coverage in major urban centres and in the remote locations where public and officer safety are equally critical,” Marianne Ryan, deputy commissioner of the Alberta RCMP said.

The system comes with a price tag of $438 million.

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