WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A new and upgraded 911 and radio system is now live in the Washington County’s Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office has seven positions and Central EMS has five positions working inside a room together, according to John Luther, the director of emergency services and emergency management for Washington County.

“There’s a lot of people available at this center,” Luther said. 

Luther says the previous system has been around for more than 15 years and it was time for a new system.

“It was beginning to fail and we had some sites that went offline and we couldn’t recover and so our coverage was really beginning to be an issue,” Luther said.

He says the old system made them worry over the years, but now everyone is relieved because the new system is in place.

With the old system, a number of tower sites failed and could not recover. The sheriff’s office had to use its backup site until the new system was online. 

Washington County Judge Patrick Deakins says the old system was one catastrophic event from going completely down and they would have been in the dark. 

Washington County officials created a radio project that consists of a new radio system, a new 911 system and a new joint communication center that can be found inside the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. 

This project was in discussion around 2018 or 2019, but it was delayed.

“All I can say is that was only to try to make sure that we were doing it in the best way possible and the most efficient way and the safest way for those men and women in the field,” Deakins said.

The stakeholders had several vendors and partnered with many companies and such as Motorola to help make this happen. 

“This was the most intricate and complicated implementation that Motorola said they’ve done in the state,” Deakins said. 

Deakins says this new upgrade allows the sheriff’s office to enter the new digital age. 

He also says the new system allows the sheriff’s office to help people who need emergency assistance in a much more efficient fashion.

“We want those people to have the tools to serve us most efficiently. We want them to be the safest as possible as they can be. This radio upgrade does a lot of things for us,” Deakins said.

With the radio system, it will allow all dispatchers and first responders to talk directly to each other on the same radio network. 

There was a temporary sales tax from 2020 that helped pay for this project.

In total, taxpayers invested more than $12 million in the new project. 

Any additional funds will be used for maintaining the new system according to Deakins. 

Luther says the sheriff’s office now has new tools to better serve people in their time of need. 

“We’ve got better tools, better equipment, better communications. And we’ve always had a great working relationship in our county with our partners and this just helps us communicate with them in a more efficient manner,” Luther said. 

Luther says the new system will allow them to help more people in the county.

“We now have a way to communicate with our state and local and federal partners like FBI, state police, Department of Corrections, other counties, other cities that are on it along with those counties.” Luther said. 

It will also increase the coverage in the area from 70% to about 95% according to Deakins. 

Deakins said when they were testing the new radio on Tuesday, they had a deputy in Malvern respond.

“That’s incredibly powerful that even down that part of the state, we get real time instantaneous communication with that officer,” Deakins said.

The new equipment helps dispatchers answer a call, and then the first responders use the radio to talk to each other until they reach the destination of the emergency.

Luther says the way to communicate is better than they were a few days ago. 

Deakins says he wants everyone to be comfortable with this new system.

“This is a huge historic step forward for our county and ensures that we can respond to those calls in the most efficient manner,” Deakins said. 

Deakins says they will eventually “try to get a budget for that and understand what those costs are going to be, so that we can responsibly take down the old system.”

Luther says there is still some work to be done.

He hopes the new system will be around for 20 years, but he knows technology makes rapid changes. 

“As long as this will serve us and provide us a safe tool to use, then we want to stick with it,” Luther said.