New communications system working well for St. Johns County agencies


ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – St. Johns County sheriff's deputies and firefighters have a new communication system, and the Sheriff's Office says it's making a world of a difference.

Similar to no cellphone service, the former system had what they call dead spots, in which deputies couldn't make contact with the agency if they needed backup.

In a dramatic scene in August 2011 when a gas station exploded, the previous radio system was a huge problem because the radios weren't reliable. Calls went unanswered.

At a bomb scare at Flagler Hospital last week, a deputy on scene realized he needed backup and called for it on his radio. With the old communication system, it would not have been possible because the radios didn't work inside the hospital.

"He would have had to walk out of the hospital to get on the radio and transmit or call dispatch on the phone," St. Johns County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Catherine Payne said. "We couldn't communicate on radios, especially buildings that had dead spots in certain spots in the county. So everybody was real supportive of this."

Another example of how the new radios are cutting down on response time is when the body of missing woman Barbara Parchem was found in Flagler Estates recently. There is spotty cellphone service in that area, and before, the radios were of no use. With the new radios, deputies had no problem communicating when they found her remains.

"In fact, that whole day that's what we used to communicate with not only our own agency but other agencies involved in the search," Payne said.

Another issue with the old radios is people with scanners could listen in on deputies' conversations. Criminals with scanners would know when deputies were coming to their area and would take off.

All emergency agencies around the country were federally mandated to update their equipment by 2013.