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The coverage area of an interconnected emergency radio system will include Forsyth County, seen in light green. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

Forsyth is joining forces with Cobb County for an interconnected emergency radio system.

A $1 million award from the Department of Homeland Security will fund the project that allows Forsyth to join its communications with others in the metro Atlanta area.

Due to past federal awards, Cobb is connected with the Douglasville area and the Urban Area Security Initiative, which covers Atlanta, said Glenn Petersen, a Motorola Solutions representative who is working on the project.

The 20-year intergovernmental agreement approved Tuesday by Forsyth commissioners will add the local emergency system to Cobb’s regional one.

“It’s very similar to your cell phone when you’re driving around. It knows what tower site to connect to,” Petersen said. “Right now, Cobb County has a switch in place that connects these three bubbles here as far as [radio frequency] coverage seamlessly.

“They’ve got interoperability radio channels that they’re able to roam across this area without having to change channels.”

The regional system has other benefits, he said, such as a reduced cost to counties by sharing a master switch, better coordination of first responders in emergencies and more layers of backup for the systems.

Forsyth public safety employees explained the practical uses of the regional system for their daily jobs, such as a deputy serving a warrant in another county or the fire department requesting assistance from neighbors in case of a natural disaster.

The communications with Forsyth won’t be interrupted as the first responders travel into other channels and coverage areas.

“If something like this goes through, we could go to Cobb if they get hit by a tornado and talk to them seamlessly and never miss a beat,” Forsyth Fire Division Chief Kevin Wallace said.

For Forsyth, the merge will also mean local outdated technology will be upgraded as part of the project, connecting by microwaves to Cobb, said Brian Converse, the county’s interim director of information systems and technology.

“If we were going to do this ourselves and pony up a nickel to do what we needed to do, we’re looking at a $3.5 million forklift of our system to keep a master site here, the core of the system,” Converse said.

The master site, which Cobb developed with its initial Homeland Security award, can serve many counties and encourages regional interoperability.

Forsyth is required to purchase upgrades in the future per the agreement.

Converse suggested the county go ahead and set aside that funding with the money that would have been spent on updating the current system.

Other surrounding counties, including Cherokee, Gwinnett and Hall, haven’t signed on to the regional system.

However, Converse said those jurisdictions have been watching what’s happening and may also want to take advantage of the increased coverage and potential savings.

Cobb will review the agreement at a meeting Tuesday, and Forsyth commissioners will vote for final approval as part of its Aug. 16 consent agenda.