U-City cops can now talk to one another

Emergency preparedness at Penn—and the rest of University City—is getting a big boost from MERN, the Multi-agency Emergency Radio Network.

Launched by the Division of Public Safety, the new system eases communication and coordination among area security agencies in the event of a major criminal event or catastrophe.

MERN members—which also include Drexel University, the University City District, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Presbyterian Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia—can talk to each other instantaneously using a frequency solely dedicated to University City. Maureen Rush, vice president for public safety, said MERN saves critical minutes by eliminating the need for telephones and allowing patrol officers with portable radios to work right from location.

Talks of implementing MERN date back five years but the cost of installing the technology and purchasing the equipment, up to $15,000 per agency, roadblocked the effort. But after 9/11 and after prices dropped by more than half, discussions of MERN were revived.

“With the threat of terrorism looming over people every day, this type of radio infrastructure is what agencies all across the country are trying to incorporate,” said MERN Project Director Mike Fink.

Rush said she hopes other agencies, like SEPTA and Amtrak, will be persuaded to join. “When you look at what happened on 9/11, [access to] transportation was a major, major issue.”

Penn is one of the only universities nationwide to have such a system in place, said Rush. “It’s unusual for a university public safety agency, but it’s also unusual for a city in general,” she said.

“We’ve been studied by other universities and consortiums. The city of Lancaster has a consortium that’s now in its pilot phase and they’re looking to do more public/private ventures.”

Originally published on January 16, 2003