ND Information Technology Dept. says state's emergency radio systems may be failing

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BISMARCK, N.D. - The state's emergency service radio systems may be failing, and that could be a major issue for our first responders.

The North Dakota Information and Technology Department conducted a study that revealed some of the problems, but it may have been the Dakota Access Pipeline protests that highlighted some of the issues.

Radios can be emergency responders' lifeline.

"The radios need to be working all the time, and when you're in rural North Dakota there can't be dead spots," says Sgt. Tim Coughlin ND Highway Patrol.

Unfortunately, the system, or systems, being used by state and local agencies may be antiquated. Law enforcement says problems with inter-agency communication was exposed by the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and they've been forced to find solutions for the issue.

"Making sure law enforcement can talk to fire, fire can talk to first responders and so on and so forth," says Duane Schell, ND Information Technology Dept.

"Emergency situations you need to be able to relay information to other entities, such as an ambulance or other law enforcement that may be responding to a scene to inform them of any potential dangers they could be encountering," says Coughlin.

A 2014 study by the North Dakota Information Technology Department found three alarming issues with the states current radio system:

Radio coverage isn't complete in rural areas, agencies are on different systems, so communication between them can be difficult, and the infrastructure is aging. Up to 40% may be obsolete as soon as 2018.

Schell says if it isn't fixed soon, it could become a matter of life and death.

"Often times when they're doing their job there are life and safety issues at play, and if they're unable to communicate effectively there are chances lives could be at risk," says Schell.

In emergencies, communication is key and the state information technology department wants to make sure first responders aren't locked out when they lives are on the line.

The North Dakota IT Department hopes to solve this problem by purchasing a new system known as the P-25 radio system. There are two bills moving through the legislature that would address funding for the new system.