City of BG moves forward with plans to build MARCS radio tower



Shaelee Haaf and Shaelee Haaf

When it comes to saving lives, communication is vital.

After a few setbacks due to the pandemic, the plan to build a new radio system for first responders in Bowling Green and Wood County is in motion.

Many public safety agencies across Ohio already utilize a ‘Multi-Agency Radio Communication System.’ Peter Voderberg, chief of Broadband Ohio, described a MARCS tower as a way for agencies such as fire departments and police departments to communicate on one channel.

“It’s an emergency responder tower that allows people all across the state to be able to communicate with each other on a radio frequency that’s dedicated to them,” he said.

According to Fire Chief Bill Moorman, the Bowling Green Fire Department currently uses a ‘very high-frequency system,’ known as VHF, which requires two radios to send and receive messages. This piece of technology is becoming obsolete as the number of public safety agencies that use a MARCS system increases.

“Several years ago, there was a push in this local area to have all our fire, EMS and law enforcement agencies all operating under one system. At that time, MARCS was identified as that system and a lot of agencies made the transition to MARCS,” Moorman said.

Because other agencies BGFD works with on a regular basis use the MARCS system, Moorman said using a different radio system poses challenges for proper communication during an emergency situation.

Bowling Green State University Chief of Police Michael Campbell said the VHF system is similar to having a cell phone, where there are areas with a strong signal and areas with a weak one. There are several buildings in the city that do not receive a radio signal, and without effective communication, there is a higher risk for lives to be put in danger.

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Moorman explained the first thing to fail at an emergency scene is reliable communications and stressed the importance of communication when training first responders.

“It has long been the goal of the Bowling Green Fire Division to have a more reliable radio communications system, especially in the area of in-building radio coverage. Our current VHF system has not been able to meet those needs so we needed to look at all of our options,” he said.

After analyzing several computer models, BGFD determined that Wood County falls in a dead zone between two towers located in Bradner, Ohio and Neopolis, Ohio.

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Moorman said having the tower built is a “game changer,” and it was all made possible with a $500,000 grant from the Capitol Improvement Project program.

This year, Sen. Theresa Gavarone approved a $2.1 billion budget to fund local community projects for schools, infrastructure and public services, including $18 million to improve security and efficiency of public agency websites and MARCS towers across the state.

The Ohio State Patrol began searching for a new radio system in 1990 and initiated the MARCS Tower Project in 2000; however, Voderberg said 9/11 had a significant impact on the project.

“With what happened during 9/11, it became imperative that everybody had the capability of communicating across different agencies and not have the individualized systems, but to have a state-wide system where they could both respond and communicate with one another,” he said.

According to the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, the mission is “dedicated to providing Ohio’s first responders and public safety providers with state-of-the-art wireless digital communications, and to promote interoperability, in order to save lives and maximize effectiveness in both normal operations and emergency situations.”

Construction of the tower in Bowling Green is expected to begin April 2021, located at 13982 Mitchell Road, and the goal is to complete it by June 2021.