The Department of Homeland Security is paying up to $7,000 each for 30 multi-band radios to be used by Canadian first responders in border cities that share U.S. waterways.
The Americans are paying as much as $14,000 US for two new, state-of-the-art radios to be used by the Windsor Police Service.
Officials on both sides of the border say the devices should make the city's waterways safer this summer.
By the end of the year, the U.S. department will have paid for approximately 30 new radios to be used by Canadian first responders in Windsor and Essex County. All paid for by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The department has also bought 10 radios, already in use, in Sault Ste. Marie.
According to Rick Thorold, manager of Sault Area Hospital's Ambulance Communication Centre, Homeland Security first approached Chippewa County Emergency Dispatch in Sault St. Marie, Mich., about co-ordinating communications with their Canadian counterparts.
Chippewa County pitched the idea to Thorold. Together, the two agencies jointly applied for the radios through Homeland Security.
The money for the radios is part of a Border Interoperability Demonstration Grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
Daryl Lundy, director of homeland security and emergency management for the City of Detroit, said U.S. emergency personnel first showed an interest in improved communication and co-ordination between Canadian and U.S. personnel after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.
That's when different first responders from different agencies first realized their radios couldn't communicate well with each other.
According to the Department of Homeland Security's website, "radios only operate within a specific frequency band; subsequently, responders are often unable to communicate with other agencies and support units that operate in different radio frequencies. Comparable in size and weight to existing portable radios with similar features, multi-band radio would provide users with much-improved incident communications capabilities."
'Willingness to work together'
Windsor police staff Sgt. Brendan Dodd, who co-ordinates radio communication for Windsor Police, said Windsor police "reached out to contacts on the other side[of the border] in Homeland Security" a couple years ago.
Representatives from Windsor police and fire were part of the grant application working group and wrote letters of support of the project.
"All it took was that we had a willingness to participate and willingness to work together," Dodd said of getting the radios.
Lundy said the "multi-band" technology is relatively new and made its debut a few years ago.
Windsor police officers picked up their two radios on Tuesday. They will be using them to work with the Canadian and American coast guards this summer, keeping boaters on the Detroit River safe.
The river separates Windsor, Ont., from Detroit. It is one kilometre wide at its narrowest point and four kilometres wide at its widest. North America's busiest commercial border crossing, the Ambassador Bridge, connects the two cities.
The cities co-host or co-ordinate several events each year, including the Detroit Marathon and the annual Target Fireworks Over the Detroit River.
In Sault Ste. Marie, Thorold controls all 10 radios and will distribute them on an as-needed basis.
He said he can't ever remember a time of a joint rescue or joint emergency response in Sault Ste. Marie. However, first responders on both sides of the border do train for such an event.
"You'd see a fellow first responder 100 yards away but you can't communicate with him," Thorold said. "When issues happen that affect people on both sides of river, responders didn't have a means of communication."
Const. Shannon Tennant, team leader of the Windsor police marine unit, said communicating with U.S. emergency personnel isn't easy, because the different organizations can't currently talk to each other directly.
"You have to switch over to cellphone in case the signal's weak, and if you have problems with the roaming with the cellphone, then you go back to another system where [Windsor] dispatch is calling their dispatch. So, you're using a variety of different communications," Tennant said. "That's not something you want to be dealing with in the middle of a major incident."
Dodd said the new radios will untangle the complicated web of communications.
One radio does job of four
Dodd said the radios look like walkie-talkies and are the size of an older cellphone. He said these radios are "special" because they can speak on more than one frequency. Instead of having multiple radios each tuned to different frequencies used by the number of emergency service agencies, one "multi-band radio" can monitor multiple channels.
"The difference now, with these new radios, is that one device can do the job of potentially four radios," Dodd said.
With the new gear, Dodd said officers will spend less time juggling their radios and have more time to rescue boaters.
The radios would have come in handy during a bomb threat at the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel last summer, Dodd said.
He said part of this new initiative is to "enhance communication in the tunnel, specifically."
A bomb threat closed the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel for nearly four hours July 12, 2012. Officers from police departments on both sides of the border found no explosives inside the 1.5-kilometre international crossing.
Dodd said homeland security is also paying for new high-tech dispatch infrastructure in Canada, too.
The new technology would allow dispatch centres on both sides of the river to communicate with each other, he said. It would also allow dispatchers to patch a radio or cellphone user into consoles on both sides of the border to allow all first responders to communicate with the user, if need be.
'The capabilities are pretty amazing," Dodd said.
Dodd ensured it is "not a concern" that U.S. officials could be monitoring Windsor police channels.
The radios being supplied will be programmed in such a way that U.S. agencies will only have the capability to monitor broadcasts and communicate with Canadian agencies on specific channels and frequencies that have been agreed upon for "interoperability purposes," Dodd said.
Neither U.S. or Canadian agencies will have the capability to "listen in" on communications on any channels other than those authorized for cross-border communication, Dodd explained.