County considers radio upgrade
Sarasota County is considering a major upgrade to the radio system used by the fire, emergency medical services, law enforcement and Public Works departments throughout the county.
County officials are looking for a substantial upgrade to the current Project 25 800 megahertz digital radio system. Project 25, or P25, is a national open standard for public safety radios. There are a minimum of eight standards that must be met for anyone who wants to be P25 compliant. This means that users with radios manufactured by different companies can communicate without issue. The county uses the early version of P25 that was installed in 1998 and has had several modifications over the years.
“What we want to do is update all of our equipment to the latest version of P25,” said Bob Stuckey, the county’s general manager of Public Safety and Communications. “We’re in the P25 world, but we’re not in the latest version.”
The current system is Motorola-based, and the county is forced to buy any replacement radios or other related items from that provider. The newest P25 system removes the proprietary aspect of the system and would allow the county to save money on future repairs.
“These are open standards, and that means we’ll be able to compete with various manufacturers, where before we couldn’t compete,” Stuckey said.
Portable radios on the P25 system have a feature that allows for easy channel changes. They have a voice system that tells users what channel they’re on, eliminating the need to remove the radio from their holders to look at the LCD display in order to see channels. Some of the radios available have GPS capability, which can aid in finding lost firefighters at the scene of a fire or help in the recovery of a lost or stolen radio.
The upgraded P25 system would feature a vocoder in the radios, which has an advanced computer algorithm that enables voices to be completely separate from background noise — a major plus in an emergency or when workers are on a job site.
Sarasota County Fire Chief Mike Tobias estimated the cost for the system would be around $30 million. Infrastructure, including antennas, repeaters, computers and wiring, will cost around $15 million. Replacement equipment for the fire department, EMS, law enforcement and Public Works could be anywhere from $12 million to $15 million. Implementation of the upgrades would take about a year to complete.
There are seven radio towers around the county that are used for radio communication. Tobias said another tower may be added to better serve the area with the upgrade.