Roxanne Van Gundy and other members of the 911 Radio Project Committee knew the Lyon County Emergency Communications Center was due for an upgrade.
While the county still operated with an analog radio system that was all but obsolete, more than 70 percent of the state’s emergency responders had switched over to digitally trunked 800 MHz radio systems.
After more than two years of research and planning, Lyon County officially transitioned into its new digital 800 MHz emergency radio system on Oct. 6, improving coverage and increasing communications capabilities.
“Without getting too far in the weeds, the 800 MHz system increases our interoperability with other counties that we did not have before,” said Van Gundy, the director of the Lyon County Emergency Communications Center. “The second biggest difference is increased coverage. We immediately started seeing areas, that traditionally responders could not communicate to dispatch from, that have strong coverage.”
The $2.9 million project required the construction and upgrades of four radio towers equipped with trunked, digital 800 MHz systems. The towers include live camera feeds and weather stations.
“This project isn’t just radios for the responders,” she said. “They have new radios — portables and mobiles — and Dispatch is also learning the brand new radio console system on our side. We are also working through learning a new recorder for our radio traffic and phone calls as well as the new enhanced location services system. We have also gained weather stations that we can monitor at each tower, which I think will be huge during fire season and severe weather. We will have the ability to see actual live camera feeds from each tower site, so [there’s] lots of new things to learn for so many folks.”
Trunked systems differ from traditional analog in that large groups of users can switch seamlessly and automatically between assigned channels. Conventional systems, on the other hand, require channels to be selected by the user.
“Change isn’t easy, but I feel like all of our partner agencies and my staff have done a great job of embracing new equipment and several operational changes,” Van Gundy said. “With everything, there’s a learning curve, but they are doing a fantastic job of staying positive and working together.”
LCECC’s dispatch team has had to learn how to monitor on the new system. In many ways, the job hasn’t changed. Van Gundy said there are only “so many channels” dispatch can safely monitor at a time, which hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way emergency personnel handles business which she says is “a good thing.”
“It’s shifted the management of radio traffic back to the Dispatch Center,” Van Gundy said. “Dispatch now determines what channels that they have the capacity to monitor and they now have the latitude to direct responders to the channels that they need them to be. We are now able to be more efficient with our resources and are able to manage the workload much more effectively.”
That’s huge, she said, because the new system also comes with a wider coverage area as well as GPS location services. Emergency personnel can now be located by dispatch in emergency situations thanks to enhanced location services linked into their mobile radios.
“That is huge for dispatch to be able to locate a responder in an emergency situation, or a responder who is out with a citizen that we need to send exact emergency help to,” Van Gundy said. “Safety for our citizens and responders are our number one priority, and I feel like this really gives us additional tools to do that.”
Being able to communicate with neighboring counties has “opened up” the world in a sense for LCECC when it comes to requesting assistance or alerting them of something that’s coming their way. In the past, dispatchers would have to use a phone to make a call, taking attention away from the radios. Now, they can just stay on the line.
At the end of the day, it’s been several years of hard work to get to this point, Van Gundy said. And it’s all been well worth it.
“I really feel proud of the people who worked on this so hard on this,” she said. “We did all the leg work to make sure that this was the right thing for our county and served our responders in the best way possible.”