State of Maine, Harris announce completion of statewide P25 system
Officials for the state of Maine recently announced that more than 2,000 users are communicating on the new statewide digital P25 Maine State Communications Network (MSCommNet) system built by Harris, which has replaced disparate aging analog systems that were unable to provide coverage throughout the state.
Users have been operating on the VHF P25 system for more than a month and have given the network rousing reviews—particularly when compared to the previous radio systems that state personnel used, according to Greg McNeal, chief technology officer (CTO) for the state of Maine’s office of information technology (OIT).
“We went live on Feb. 6,” McNeal said. “We went live because the subscribers—the wardens, the state police and the first responders—as they got on to test the system, pretty much refused to go back [to the legacy radio network].
“We had a 40-year-old system that we were using, and each agency had their own radio communication system that they were maintaining. If you went to a mountaintop, you would see three or four antennas, each serving different agencies. I think what we’re doing here is what we’ve always tried to do in the state of Maine, which is consolidate and create enterprise systems, where appropriate.”
Indeed, the need for a new radio system was evident on several levels. In addition to noticeable coverage gaps, state officials were struggling to keep the previous system operational, according to John Richards, Maine’s director of OIT radio services. Richards described the narrowbanded legacy VHF analog system as “just a mess” to maintain in recent years.
“[It took] over 40 years of bailing wire and band-aids to keep the thing running,” Richards said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We couldn’t get parts for our dispatch consoles, so we were buying them off of the Internet just to keep the thing running.”
In contrast, the new P25 system boasts 40 sites—more than twice the 17 sites in the previous network—to provide unprecedented coverage and voice quality. Seven sites utilize solar-power technology, according to state officials.
In addition to the measured technical specifications that have been realized, perhaps the most telling indication of the system’s audio quality came from an officer’s dog, according to Tom Driscoll, outreach coordinator for the MSCommNet radio project office.
“There was a state trooper that was on his portable down in Augusta, and he was talking to his dispatch center, which was about 200 miles away for testing,” Driscoll said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “When [the trooper] was talking, his service dog came running in from the other room into the dispatch center to find him.”
Funded primarily with money provided by the state legislature, the $57.4 million system supports state police, forest rangers, game wardens, correctional officers, marine patrol personnel and other agencies, according to a press release. MSCommNet also provides for interoperability with all county and local public safety agencies.
Deployment of the MSCommNet system was the result of years of joint efforts by Maine’s Office of Information Technology; Departments of Public Safety, Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, Corrections, Marine Resources, Conservation, and Maine Emergency Management Agency; and local, county, and federal governments, according to the press release.
“It’s been a great collaborative effort; I think the feedback from the users has been tremendously positive,” Tom Benson, regional manager of northeast programs for Harris, said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We’re just pleased, proud and honored to have been part of this project.”