Public safety radio network finally up and running in DuPage

For the first time ever, more than 3,000 DuPage County police officers, firefighters and emergency responders are on the same wavelength.

After years of delays, county political and public safety officials on Tuesday announced the full implementation of a joint radio network that will allow communication among 60 agencies throughout DuPage, and will tie local authorities into a statewide radio system.

The new system, which cost $30 million, promises interoperability – the seamless communication between agencies -- which is considered critical during emergencies.

Several speakers at a media event Tuesday recalled a 2008 standoff at a Wheaton bank after a gunman took a dozen hostages. Police from several departments were forced to rely on hand signals to coordinate their movements because their radio systems were not compatible.

"We had a system that could not communicate," Hinsdale Police Chief Bradley Bloom said. "It was unsafe for the public and unsafe for our officers."

The new radio network consists of 3,134 portable and mobile radios and 53 consoles in nine 911 answering centers throughout the system, which is operated by the DuPage Emergency Telephone System Board

ETSB Executive Director Linda Zerwin said the system has been rolled out slowly since May, and was fully online during the recent Ryder Cup held at Medinah Country Club. Police used the new system to coordinate crowd control for the 400,000 golf spectators who descended on Medinah, County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said.

The process that led to Tuesday's announcement was often bumpy. In 2006, the county signed a $7 million contract with Motorola to supply the radios and support for the new system. The Tribune reported that those costs more than quadrupled, and a number of DuPage municipalities complained about the way that the county awarded the contract.

The new DuPage system was paid for with a $2.35 million federal grant and money collected through a 911 wireless surcharge. Changes to the system were mandated by federal law following the Sept. 11 attacks – a day when many first responders were hampered by incompatible radio systems.