After four hurricanes hit Florida last season, reporters, public officials and consultants were quick to warn of the lesson learned by experience. In case of disaster, the fundamental public-safety and emergency response communications backbone should be land mobile radio rather than cell phone networks.

We should add our industry's voice to endorse and promote this message, though some make both radio and cell phone products. The simple truth is that, for public safety, homeland security and disaster-recovery incidents, mission-critical communications depend on LMRs to coordinate emergency response and to communicate reliably in emergency situations.

While these days some radio features may resemble cell phones, and push-to-talk over cellular mode may resemble P2T radio, cell phones and radios are not the same. In Florida, we learned that the differences can be critical.

When cell-phone systems and service went out, LMR communications remained in service, independent of landline networks, despite winds in excess of 140 mph.

In addition, for public-safety uses, there are myriad issues with cell-phone service — reliability, redundancy, crowding (especially in emergencies), dropped calls, time lags, voice quality and continuous airtime charges, to name a few.

To be fair and balanced, cell phones can be effective tools. Nor do we mean to ignore the life-saving role cell phones may sometimes serve.

Nevertheless, we know there are commercial cellular telephone service vendors selling their various P2T wares as solutions for public-safety and emergency communications. We see dividing lines deliberately blurred.

At the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials conference and exposition last August in Montreal, one of our associates visiting the booth of a cellular service provider was surprised to learn from a sales rep that cell phone P2T capabilities were touted as the “interoperability solution” for public-safety users.

“If a firefighter in one town and a fire chief in another town, in another county, both have our cell phones and our push-to-talk service, they can talk to each other,” the rep said.

Soon after came Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, and that provider's cell-phone services were most often down and out when needed most.

Officers from Florida state agencies were among users of our industry's radios, which continued to provide equipment whenever needed, until the 11th hour of Hurricane Jeanne.

We witnessed, firsthand, the primary purpose for our industry's products: to work — as needed, when needed.


David P. Storey is president and CEO of RELM Wireless Corp., a manufacturer and marketer of mobile radio equipment for public-safety and government agencies, as well as business-band radios serving a wide range of commercial applications, for more than 55 years.