This week I was joined by state emergency personnel and officials with the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) to mark the completion of the third phase of a new wireless radio network being built in our state.
The statewide wireless radio project involves numerous state public safety agencies and NPPD, the state's largest power provider. Phase I was activated in western Nebraska about a year ago. This spring an additional section of the network was completed, uniting state personnel in 38 central and western counties.
NPPD began using the network as part of Phase III, when 457 new radios were installed in utility trucks. Phase III also included upgrades and equipment installation on a dozen radio towers in central and eastern Nebraska, installation of 135 new radios in State Patrol vehicles, and 25 new radios in State Fire Marshal vehicles.
Phase III upgrades were made in 30 counties, including: Adams, Antelope, Boone, Boyd, Buffalo, Clay, Fillmore, Gage, Garfield, Greeley, Hall, Hamilton, Holt, Howard, Jefferson, Kearney, Knox, Lancaster, Madison, Merrick, Nance, Pierce, Saline, Seward, Sherman, Stanton, Valley, Wayne, Wheeler, and York Counties.
With the completion of Phase III, the network is now available in 68 of Nebraska's 93 counties, with approximately 75 percent of State Patrol personnel using the network, along with 35 State Fire Marshal personnel and two-thirds of all NPPD utility crews communicating on the same network.
This is an effort that dates back to 2004 when we outlined a plan to achieve interoperable communications for state and local first responders and emergency managers. It called for building a new wireless radio network for state agency personnel that would serve as a backbone that connects the eight regional communications networks used by county and local officials.
NPPD became involved two years ago when leaders began to consider options for replacing the utility's aging communications system. We welcomed NPPD as a partner on this project. Rather than the state and NPPD paying to build two separate systems, we collaborated on a network that will be jointly owned and operated, which provides an additional layer of redundancy and security.
Most important however was the opportunity to build a better network. Nebraska law enforcement and first responders, emergency managers and utility providers work closely year round to respond to natural disasters. We also coordinate planning and training for wide scale disaster scenarios.
The network will have increased capacity and broader reach because of the partnerships we've formed. When complete, it will connect public safety personnel from seven state agencies and NPPD. It will allow for communication with local first responders, county emergency management personnel and some federal personnel in Nebraska.
Installations for the final phase are underway and are expected to be complete in the next few months.
I want to acknowledge the leadership of several people who have played an essential role in making this network a reality, including: Lt. Governor Rick Sheehy, director of homeland security for our state, State Patrol Col. Bryan Tuma, Chief Information Officer Brenda Decker, Al Berndt with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, Dave Webb with NPPD, State Fire Marshal John Falgione, Ted Blume with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Monty Fredrickson, Director of the Nebraska Department of Roads, and Rod Bates with Nebraska Educational Telecommunications.
While there are hundreds of state and local agencies contributing to this effort, I want to acknowledge the leadership of Pete Peterson, who chairs the Nebraska Council of Regions, and Owen Yardley, who chairs the Nebraska Wireless Interoperable Network, which will oversee the network once completed.
Their work has kept Nebraska focused on achieving statewide interoperability.