Aug 16, 2015 1:05 PM

Portsmouth mock emergency reveals need to improve inter-agency radio skills

PORTSMOUTH – First responders who operate on different radio channels need more training so they can communicate across agencies in an emergency.

This is one of the weaknesses identified after a July mock emergency exercise, Emily Martuscello, exercise training officer for the N.H. Homeland Security and Emergency Management division told

This weakness is "not unique to Portsmouth," she said, or a surprise to those participating, who do their day-to-day business with radios over their own unique channels.

"They learned they have the capability to be inter-operable, but they need more training," Martuscello said. "If you're in the middle of a critical incident and have to fiddle around with your radio, it can be life critical."

Communities have their own channels and not all channels are numbered the same. The radios do have an "H bank" where common radio frequencies are located and during the Portsmouth training, participants learned how to get to them, she said.

Martuscello said dispatchers were trained how to instruct veteran and new officers and firefighters how to get to the right radio channels during the staged emergency.

The training involved two SWAT teams and police and fire personnel from five agencies and was conducted at two Portsmouth schools on July 24. The scenario involved responding to "active shooter" scenes at the middle and high school. A $110,000 federal grant helped to pay for the exercise.

"It was money well spent," said Martuscello. "It was very realistic and will give them experience they need."

An "after action" report will be drafted, but the state's training coordinator said the radio challenges were immediately apparent. The mock emergency had two command posts and responding officers from multiple agencies that had to coordinate with one another, she said.


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