by: Jala Washington
Posted: / Updated:
HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Hays County is getting new radios for its first responding agencies, funded by federal dollars.
Improving communication systems was something emergency management staff recommended for years after catastrophic flooding. It was detailed in an action report.
So why wasn’t the transition for all agencies made sooner? County officials told KXAN it came down to funding.
Wimberley and all other Hays County fire departments did, however, upgrade their radios after the major wakeup call in 2015. This was made possible by a smaller grant that could only pay for the fire departments’ upgrades.
Wimberley Fire Chief Carroll Czichos remembers the chaos of the 2015 floods like it was yesterday. They faced several challenges.
“It hit in the middle of the night,” Czichos said. “[There were] people in trees, on top of cars, on top of the roofs of their houses.”
It was the worst flooding the area has seen. Crews responding at the time weren’t able to effectively communicate with each other.
“We had radios then, but we had dead spots,” Czichos said. “[They] had towers set up, but they didn’t have enough towers set up in our area.”
According to Czichos, their new radios have 95% coverage throughout the county. But he told KXAN his department still hasn’t been able to communicate directly with agencies like the sheriff’s office, whose radios are outdated. Those radios are part of a 12-year-old system.
“So, there’s a time delay in between all that,” Czichos said.
Since 2015, Hays County said it has been able to slowly transition other departments over to the new system but hasn’t been able to fully upgrade across the board because of funding.
“This was the fruits of our labor, Mike Jones, [the emergency services director], leading the charge, and I supporting it in every step of the way.”
The sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices are the remaining departments to receive more than 600 new radios — a $5.5 million investment from federal pandemic recovery dollars. That money will also improve towers to address dead spot issues.
“Public safety is a top priority, and we are addressing serious opportunities with serious money,” County Judge Ruben Becerra said.
Czichos and others on the frontlines will tell you this is long overdue.
“We have to dream up ourselves and make our own rules, and that’s kind of what we did,” Czichos said. “It’s definitely a big jump to get everybody on the same page.”
Hays County said all agencies will have new radios within the next three months.