Interoperability and the statewide network
It seems like a slam dunk.
Build a statewide 800 MHz digital radio communications system, and let city and county government agencies use it, too. Give the feds access. Voila. Instant interoperability.
From the rudimentary (various state highway patrol VHF lowband systems) to the magnificent (Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania), states are in various stages of planning, building or operating statewide radio systems.
State police generally, but not always, lead statewide radio system projects. Many statewide radio system designs reflect their use by state troopers with relatively high-powered radios mounted in their vehicles, as opposed to relatively low-power hand-held portable radios often used by local police, fire departments and paramedics.
Take the Michigan system, for example. Based on the needs of the state police, the Michigan public safety communications system is primarily a mobile — not portable — radio system. The system uses 35 W radios permanently mounted in state police vehicles to achieve its maximum coverage performance. Agencies with portable coverage requirements may add infrastructure in their areas to use the statewide system and meet their communication needs — and that’s a key statement.
Other radio systems are designed primarily for portable coverage, using lower-powered, 3 W, hand-held radios. These systems often have more towers or antenna locations to achieve maximum performance.
Still, other systems are designed primarily for paging, such as those used by many smaller fire departments.
In Indiana, a statewide radio system is under construction. As in Michigan, agencies with portable coverage requirements may add to the state’s baseline infrastructure. When agencies join the system and begin using portables, they can run into problems if the need for additional infrastructure isn’t communicated, isn’t understood or isn’t acted upon.
Sometimes, a local agency might be lucky enough to be close to a statewide system tower. In that case, it might enjoy satisfactory portable coverage without its governing body having to spend money for additional infrastructure.
On page 20, the article “Turn It Off” describes why the police chief in Greenwood, Ind., disconnected his dispatch center from the Johnson County 800 MHz digital radio system that forms an initial piece of the Indiana Project SAFE-T statewide radio system. Please also read the article on www.mrtmag.com to see comments from a Motorola representative that could not be included in this issue because of its deadline.
Joe Pitcher, Johnson County’s attorney and its communications project manager, said, “Motorola initially gave us a proposal to add a third tower at county expense, but we chose not to implement the site at that time.”
Kourosh Bastani, system manager for Florida’s law enforcement network, offered this advice in another place and time: “The police on the beat know exactly how they want to use their radios. Get them involved from the very beginning.” The same applies to other public safety end-users. Florida’s law enforcement network requires mobile and limited portable outdoor coverage.
Officials in Grand Traverse County, Mich., are considering an $8 million upgrade of the county’s VHF highband system next year instead of joining the statewide system in part so local fire departments may continue using VHF pagers to alert part-time firefighters.
Oakland County won’t be joining Michigan’s statewide system. Officials there have opted to buy a separate $32 million 800 MHz digital system designed for in-building coverage with portable radios. The proprietary system is incompatible with the state’s network, although various levels of interoperability can be achieved in several ways aside from digital compatibility.
It may be disappointing to state officials when county and city governments choose not to join statewide systems. During the funding stage, many statewide systems are promoted to state legislatures as having good prospects for attracting participation on the local level that would save taxpayers money and improve service.
Statewide system planners should redouble their efforts to accommodate agencies with portable radio coverage requirements. After considering the alternatives, local governments should consider separate systems, if that’s the best way to meet the in-building portable radio coverage and other specific requirements they may have.