We all realize that the radios in our emergency communications center, in our vehicles or on our hips are not the same ones from 30 years ago. Because of a number of reasons, we look at the equipment we use and at some point we realize it’s time to replace our radios with new ones. How do we decide when it’s time to upgrade our public safety communication technologies? Do we look at it like a fire truck and say after 15 years it needs to be replaced or do we say when the next great idea is released that we need to get it so we always have the best of the best. Many departments are faced with the fiscal limits of not always being able to get the best of the best when it’s brand new and may have to wait a few years to be able to afford it but by that time a new and better system is now available with great new features.
To be able to make a radio system change purchase, it takes planning and a lot of homework. If you walk into the mayor’s office and say I want to add a $150,000 line item to the capitol budget to upgrade our radio system, you know the first question is going to be why? By doing your homework, you should have the answer to that question on the tip of your tongue. Your homework assignment should have included a study of the equipment, its age, its life expectancy and any serious issues that you have been having like it has been shutting down or overheating. Early in my career, our radio was on the same frequency of a city about 40 miles away. Some nights, we would pick them up as clear as a bell on our radios which during a fire can be very confusing and even dangerous.
If the radios need to be upgraded, what about the antenna system(s), what condition are they in? Would you want to add a radio repeater site out in the city, somewhere you are having issue with radio communications back to the ECC. To add a repeater site also takes planning because the site will require a power supply and you want the location be secure (if you can use an existing city owned building, it would be one of the better solutions for all of the above issue). A repeater system will also assist a department that is finding itself expanding its coverage area and adding stations.
The purchase of new radio equipment can also be built into the budget of a new or renovated emergency communication center. Do your homework to find out if there is a funding source from the state or federal government that can assist with this type of work; they probably will not cover 100% of the work but if you can get the radios and consoles paid for, you will be ahead of the game. Funding sources from the fire, police and, telecommunications agencies need to be investigated. Ask other chief officers that have done an upgrade or replace and see how they paid for it. Also, talk with them about a group purchase; which will allow you to get the equipment you want at a cheaper price due to a bulk order discount. Check with the company you purchase your radios from and see what information they can give you about what is available for funding from what they have dealt with from other department. Your radio company can also be a good source of information on the issues with the present system and what needs to be replaced or upgraded. Warning: they are going to want to sell you more radios so be sure you can justify the information they are giving you.
Some departments want to make serious changes like changing frequency bands and their present radios cannot be used so a total replacement will have to be planned, financed, installed, tested and phased into use. The plan phase will be to figure out what types of radios do you want, how many channels can be programmed into it and the range of the radio. The financing may take a couple of years to be able to get it into a capitol budget and then once the order is placed, it may take up to 6 months or more to get the equipment delivered and then another month or so to install. As you can see, this is not going to be a quick fix to a problem. Installation of the equipment can be as slow as one vehicle per day to run the wires for power supply and antennas so you will have a truck out of service about 8-10 hours. (Don’t forget to order radios for the spare vehicle also). Once the radio is installed, it needs to be tested with not just your emergency communication center but make notification to the other cities and towns by email in advance of the work you’re doing. Let them know that you will want to do a quick radio check with their ECC to ensure that you can send and receive radio messages on all the channels programed and that the read out on the radio screen and at the ECC has the correct vehicle identification name and number. Once all the testing is done, let’s set a date to switch over to the new frequency and again notify your mutual department of the change in advance so they can get their equipment updated also. Once the new radios are operational, the department mechanic or radio installer can now remove the old radios. There may be still value to the old equipment that can be traded in to the radio company or sold on Ebay. Now that you have this new equipment in place, you can look at other things like adding computer to the vehicle and have VPN communications so that the computers can get real time information and look up information on buildings and hazards.
Do your homework!