GULFPORT — Gov. Haley Barbour has conducted the first public demonstration of a new wireless emergency communications network designed to allow officials and first responders to communicate quickly and effectively in times of crisis.
In a demonstration staged from the emergency operations center at the National Guard Headquarters in Gulfport, which would serve as the state’s forward operations center during an actual Gulf Coast emergency, Barbour used the new Mississippi Wireless Integrated Network (MSWIN) for the first time. He connected with agents of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, who were on duty in the Gulf of Mexico; the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and Mississippi Department of Public Safety about 160 miles to the north in Jackson and the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center about 40 miles to the east in Pascagoula.
“Four years ago today, we quickly discovered that Hurricane Katrina had obliterated communications systems not only along the Gulf Coast but also far inland. First responders were unable to talk to each other except face-to-face, which was disastrous in and of itself as everyone was trying to get help to people who needed it immediately,” Barbour said.
“Today, I am pleased to report to the people of Mississippi, we are developing a reliable, sustainable new system designed to vastly improve the ability of law enforcement and emergency personnel to share information during natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and other emergencies.”
MSWIN representatives utilized hand-held units that enabled them to speak to the various personnel. In addition to the mobile hand-held units and those that will be installed in vehicles, the MSWIN network includes a Master Site on Wheels (SOW) staged in Jackson and three mobile SOWs that can be dispatched anywhere in the state to establish or enhance radio communications in emergencies or special events.
Chris Epps, chairman of the state Wireless Communication Commission, said, “Hurricane season is in full throttle right now and it is vital that our emergency personnel have the ability to communicate with each other as they courageously put their lives on the line. Phase I is now in place and functional today in an emergency.”
The state selected Motorola as the vendor for the project, and the contract was executed in June 2007. Construction is planned in three phases. The recently completed Phase 1 covers the lower third of the state and includes a total of 44 tower sites.
“MSWIN is roughly 18 months ahead of schedule and on budget,” said Bill Roach, executive officer of the Wireless Communication Commission.
Phase II, primarily Central Mississippi, will include 52 sites. Phase III, the upper third of the state, will include 47 sites.