Public safety radio upgrade getting closer - Republic-Times | News

Public safety radio upgrade getting closer

By on October 10, 2012 at 10:59 am

It’s a process that has been a few years in the making, but the results could one day save your life.

With a Dec. 31 deadline looming, public safety agencies across Monroe County are preparing for a shift to a new radio system aimed at improving communications between emergency responders throughout the state and beyond.

The Federal Communications Commission has mandated all non-federal public safety licensees using 25 kilohertz land mobile radio systems — such as police, fire and ambulance agencies — migrate to narrowband 12.5 kilohertz channels by Dec. 31.

This move is intended to relieve congestion and result in increased channel availability for public safety radio systems.

Failure to make the move to narrowband channels may result in a loss of communications capabilities, as FCC interference rules will no longer protect wideband systems.

As part of this radio upgrade, Monroe County is also linking into a compatible wireless system created by the state in conjunction with Motorola known as State Radio Voice Communications for the 21st Century, or STARCOM 21.

This new 800 megahertz public safety communication system was necessitated by the high volume of traffic on commercial wireless systems. Monroe County Emergency Management Agency Director Ryan Weber explained that this system is the county’s primary avenue of radio communications between dispatching stations and emergency responders, and will allow for inter-agency communication at large, multi-agency emergency scenes.

When the switch is completed later this year, the 12 mHz narrowband system will serve as a redundant, or backup, communication system to the county’s primary STARCOM 21 system, Weber said.

The cost for this upgrade is around $970,000, which includes new consoles for radio dispatching at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department and Columbia Police Department for $800,000.

Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein said the Monroe County 911 Board, through the telephone tax per customer, forwarded $450,000 toward the project.

The remaining $350,000 is split via population at two-thirds and one-third for the county and Columbia, respectively, from the general budget.

“Each will serve as backup for the other,” Koenigstein said.

“It looks like we are all ready for the switch over on Jan. 1,” Waterloo Police Chief Jim Trantham said, adding that the clarity of the new radio system is “amazing and much safer for the officers.”

Monroe County Sheriff Dan Kelley agreed, saying that up to now, it has been hard to pick up local dispatch clearly as close by as Collinsville.

With the new system, “we can communicate with folks from Springfield as clear as a bell,” he said.

Columbia Police Chief Joe Edwards echoed their sentiments.

“This new radio system will allow us to communicate with local emergency services across the state, (and) will also allow us to communicate with police, fire, and EMS departments in Missouri,” he said. “I’ve been a police officer in Columbia since 1992.  I have never been able to pick up a police radio and communicate with a St. Louis County Police officer who is standing 100 yards away from me on the J.B. Bridge. We frequently assist one another on the bridge with traffic crashes, suicidal people, traffic hazards, etc. Once this system is up and running, we will finally be able to do this.”

Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.