The park needs you this Giving Tuesday

November 21, 2017

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of Giving Tuesday in the news or on social media. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it kick starts your holiday giving season with a way to give back. So after you’ve battled pre-dawn crowds and snagged all the best deals from your office chair Monday morning, don’t forget to cross the nonprofits in your community off your holiday list.

This Giving Tuesday, Friends of the Smokies is tackling a huge fundraising challenge head on, but we need your help.

GSMNP radio communications system

Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s radio communications system is outdated and needs to be replaced. This system is the backbone of day-to-day operations in the park, but more importantly, any emergency response inside the park. Without the ability to communicate effectively, first responders could be delayed when every second can make the difference.

This is not a small project, either in terms of importance to the park or the price tag. The total cost of the park-wide upgrade is $2.5 million. Thankfully, with some government funding and other grants, we can match every gift we receive dollar-for-dollar. That means your gift, big or small, is automatically doubled. Every single donation puts us one two steps closer to reaching our goal.

But it’s important to know where your money is going, so what exactly does this project do? Let’s dive in.

There are three main parts: replacement of portable radios for rangers, patrol cars, and fire trucks; replacement of nine repeater stations in and around the park; installation of a computer aided dispatch (CAD) system.

Portable radios for rangers, patrol cars, fire trucks

Every park ranger, patrol car, and fire truck carries some sort of portable radio to communicate with park dispatch, team members, or outside agencies (local police, fire departments, etc.).

Radios that rangers carry are handheld, while others are mounted inside the vehicles.

The radios the park has been using have an active lifespan of about 10 years, but were purchased in 2003.

While they are still functional, many of the replacement parts and maintenance needed to keep these up and running are hard to come by or are expensive. In some cases, the manufacturer no longer services a particular model at all anymore.

The first phase of this project aims to replace all of these units with new, reliable radios. This is the first line of defense for law enforcement and firefighters working in unpredictable and rapidly changing situations.

Repeater sites

Next, let’s look at the nine repeater sites in and around the park.

Radio tower at Clingmans Dome (Photo by NPS)

Radio tower at Clingmans Dome (Photo by NPS)

These are tall radio towers placed on top of high peaks like Clingmans Dome (right).

When a ranger calls over the radio, signals connect to the nearest repeater and on down the line to park dispatch, like a daisy chain. If one link in this daisy chain fails because of old equipment, then the connection is broken and the ranger’s message can’t get through.

Replacing the components of the microwave and Motorola repeaters will greatly reduce the potential of communication outages.

That means, when a ranger calls for help on a search and rescue or an officer calls for backup on a traffic accident, that call is heard loud and clear.

Central Dispatch (CAD)

All of these pieces depend on communication with a central dispatch.

Central dispatch

Currently, hard-working dispatchers have to manually enter each emergency call into several systems at once, all while recording important details from rangers and first responders in the field.

This project will install a computer aided dispatch system or CAD. The CAD system automatically integrates this critical information into emergency management systems and records each call.

It also features mapping functions, so rangers and first responders can be located in the field, meaning backup knows exactly where to go. Being able to push this data to NPS systems means staff can spend more time in the field and less time doing basic data entry.

This all sounds very tech-y and complicated but it boils down to this: when you need help in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, every second counts. In critical situations, reliable communications and accurate data can literally mean the difference between life and death.

An upgraded communications system for America’s most-visited national park is absolutely vital. It helps protect our brave park rangers and first responders, our precious natural resources, and you — one of more than 11 million visitors each year.

So this Giving Tuesday, we need your support. This is a tall order to fill and we cannot do it without your support. Mark your calendars for November 28th and support your Smokies this Giving Tuesday.

Can’t wait? Donate right now and we’ll make sure your gift counts toward our million dollar match.

Thank you very much for your generous support and thank you for being a Friend.