Katara Simmons/News-Sun Highlands County Sheriff's Office Communications Director Heather Carr talks about the department's newly upgraded radio system Thursday morning at the main station in Sebring.
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published: Sunday, September 01, 2013
New digital public safety radio system goes online Wednesday
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING -- At 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, those with police scanners no longer will be able to hear radio traffic from Highlands County's safety services. Only authorized personnel will be able to pick up the chatter from area police, fire and ambulances.
It's all part of a $7.2 million project that has been years in the making and brings Highlands County into the 21st century of radio communication. The radios will switch from the previous analog system onto the new P-25 Digital 800 megahertz band.
"Now we will have a very robust selection of channels that will allow us to communicate with the counties that surround us," said apt. J.P. Fane of the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, who has been overseeing the project at the communications center. "All first responders in the county will be switching on Wednesday morning."
The Federal Communications Commission has reserved the frequencies for public safety services in an effort to ensure secure and uninterrupted communications.
The project has been in the making for better than a year and involves radios in patrol cars, ambulances and fire vehicles throughout the county. It began with a radio failure incident and after officials looked in to what it would take to fix the problem, they decided it would be less expensive and more efficient in the long run to go ahead and move forward into a completely new communications system.
"They decided they had been putting band-aids on it long enough," Fane said.
Additionally, all law enforcement channels will be encrypted for added security. Fane explained that even with identical equipment, the new smart system will lock out any receiver which is not registered.
"Used to be, you could go out an buy a radio and if you got the internal information you needed, you could program it and then listen to us," he said. "But not anymore, this one is so smart that if you turn on a radio it will sense that a new unit has been added to the system. If the system does not know who you are, you will be locked out."
In addition to making it easier for different units in Highlands County to talk to each other, it also connects them with units in neighboring Polk and Hardee counties. Moreover, officials say it will eliminate dead spots in the area which have been a problem for law enforcement officers and other first responders.
That is due to major piece of equipment known as the "Motorola Switch," a hub in Polk County which is used by a number of other units in Central Florida.
"Polk has been kind enough to let us tie in, and that switch alone cost $4-5 million," Fane said
The unit allows patrol cars to drive as far away as Tampa and Orlando and still be able to transmit and receive the same as they would right here in Highlands County. Fane explained it continues to expand as more and more agencies tie into the system.
The new system also provides greater ease for dispatchers as it will eliminate "cross-talk" between mobile units.
"Before, they could talk over each other. Now if two units key up, the system will decide who was first and let the second one know 'hey, you need to hang on for a second,'" Fane said.
Moreover, the digital computerized system can move the transmissions between different frequencies and direct the console to automatically follow the broadcasts so they are seamless for safety services communicating with dispatchers.
Safety service personnel will be able to travel even long distances with a roaming capability that will not only provide a greater range, but clearer levels of communication.
"This new system will greatly improve the safety of our deputies, firefighters and emergency medical folks," Sheriff Susan Benton said in a press release. "Further, our ambulances will be able to communicate with the hospital emergency rooms from the scene rather than just before they arrive at the hospital. This could truly improve the level of treatment for our residents while en route to the hospitals.
"Thank you to all of the hard working folks at Motorola, the County project manager, Chris Benson, and all of the technicians at EMS, Fire and the Sheriff's office."
Although the new system involves handheld radios for individuals, vehicle radios and consoles in the communications center, Fane said that due to budget constraints there were a number of radios that were not purchased this year.
Costs were held down to some extent through a deal with the vendor, Motorola.
"For every radio we bought, we'd trade in our old one and they would give us a discount," he said.
As the switch in radio frequencies happens Wednesday morning, there will be a commensurate physical switch by dispatchers, who had to move from the communications center to the county's Emergency Operations Center while the upgrade was taking place.
"A special and loud shout out goes to our dispatchers who again without complaint had to move from the new communications center to the EOC while this upgrade was taking place," Benton said. "They are amazing and never missed a beat in answering your calls for help and then dispatching the help to you."
Encryption (by: Ryan - 9/11/2013)
It's a shame the local media didn't protest the encryption or even probe into why it's necessary. Being able to listen in is a vital news gathering tool and is a good service to citizens who want to be informed about what is going on in their communities. You have to wonder why Highlands SO and other agencies throughout the state need encryption meanwhile the two largest agencies in the country, the NYPD and LAPD can still be monitored. Enjoy the 12 hour old press releases...
Willing victims (by: Chemosh - 9/6/2013)
I see that Motorola flimflammed your (willing) Sheriff office into an overpriced outdated system. Nothing makes a first responder stick out his chest and strut like buying the most expensive radios around. They get bragging rights like a kid with new toys. There is rarely a reality to how the system is purchased. Motorola is notorious for including proprietary "bells and whistles" that are normally included with other systems for free. Plus the fact that with encryption the public will not get to hear just how crappy P25 systems sound. In fact you can read in a publication from Homeland Security that tells firemen, and others, to switch out of P25 on scene because the audio processor is so bad it endangers the firemen. So enjoy your "new" toy folks. You paid dearly for your bright shiny overpriced/overkill,boondoggle.
Design (by: Blindman~ - 9/6/2013)
This article was designed to justify an expense to the "general public". What your supposed to perceive is that now; high tech criminals in Sebring doing burglaries in town won't know when the police are coming because their portable scanners won't be able to pick up the call. Oh, and this will greatly improve the safety of first responders. This is salesmanship and a bunch of hog wash. Just be honest and say "you needed a new system and you got it".
Encryption (by: Bob - 9/6/2013)
The public will and should loose trust in public law enforcement because this is anti-social policing! Another huge waste of Highlands counties tax $$ and just goes to show you that we are overpaying our local government. Well Im sure Motorola is laughing all the way to the bank as they are the very best in getting a client on their systems and then continue to upgrade them until they set the hook and sell you a brand new system. Trade ins and discounts Thats funny but that must mean something to the purchasing dept.
Police radios (by: SunNLake33872 - 9/4/2013)
" wonder what Law enforcement is trying to hide by encrypting their communications? "
Neighborhood watch (by: Mike Gormley - 9/3/2013)
Well, I think this hinders the neighborhood watch capabilities. I like to know what is going on in my neighborhood, and monitoring the public service frequencies is one of my tools. If I know someone is on the loose, I can also be looking for them. About 6 months ago, a neighbors house was on fire. I heard it first from the dispatch. I was the first on the scene to help them, shut the power off to the house and move obstacles out of the way for the fire department to gain better access, once they arrived.
Fane you are stupid. (by: Been doing this for 20 years - 9/3/2013)
"But not anymore, this one is so smart that if you turn on a radio it will sense that a new unit has been added to the system. If the system does not know who you are, you will be locked out."
sounds bad (by: Bailee - 9/2/2013)
This sounds like a civil rights issue and not a good thing Feel all local people should be able to hear and get involved
BS (by: Willie - 9/2/2013)
This is pure BS.
MoreEncryption (by: Eric - 9/2/2013)
I understand encrypting special PD channels like SWAT, Negotiators, Undercover Ops....but not regular traffic stops and things in that nature. The encryption on the Fire/Ems side now that is ridiculous
digital radio (by: Betty - 9/1/2013)
Another means to keep the average citizen "in the dark" as to police procedures? Are we fast becoming a police state?
Communications (by: Rednecked - 9/1/2013)
I guess with the multi county reach of the system, Venus VFD will remain in contact with dispatch when they go mud bogging over at the Redneck Yacht Club in Charlotte Co.
Commo (by: John Q - 9/1/2013)
I'll miss the hilarity of listening to the Chinese fire drills put on by the local FDs and VFDs. True comedy.
p-25 (by: Bob Reynolds - 9/1/2013)
The author wrote:The radios will switch from the previous analog system onto the new P-25 Digital 800 megahertz band.
Radios (by: Sam - 9/1/2013)
More they can Hide from WE THE PEOPLE......
New radios (by: tom walsh - 9/1/2013)
Have to wonder just what it is that they are afraid if we, the people who are paying for this, overhear it.
Encryption (by: Disgruntled scanner user - 9/1/2013)
I wonder what Law enforcement is trying to hide by encrypting their communications? It has been repeatedly shown that an informed citizenry is safer, and can even protect themselves by knowing what is going on in a neighborhood. Also, to a degree the ability to hear communications can keep Law enforcement honest, and aid news gathering. This is negated by the new system. Why does our Law Enforcement have to cover up their communications?
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