County launches long-planned 800MHz system

By on April 5, 2011

Neries Sullivan, dispatch shift supervisor, makes the first roll call to deputies on the 800 MHz system.

More than a century ago, the Outer Banks found a place in radio history. In 1901, Reginald Fessenden experimented with a high-frequency spark transmitter from a sending station on Roanoke Island to a receiving station in what is now Buxton; a distance of 50 miles.

Local radio history was made again Tuesday when Dare County Sheriff J.D. “Doug” Doughtie announced that Dare County would begin the transition to the 800 MHz trunked communication system.

Precisely at 9 a.m., Dare County dispatchers flipped the switch and transmitted the announcement to Dare deputies, then proceeded to a roll call. The system worked as planned, and deputies immediately responded to their individual calls.

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Other county, and then municipal public safety departments will transition to the new system over the next few days.

“Once the system is fullly cut over for all public safety, by the end of April, all Dare County public safety personnel will be able to communicate with one another anywhere in the county, as well with other users outside of the County who are on the State VIPER Radio System,” Doughtie said.

Fire, EMS, all law enforcement and ocean rescue services will transition to the system by the end of April. Dispatchers completed training in March.

Motorola team monitors performance of the system.

Talk of conversion to an 800 MHz system in Dare has been around for over two decades, and almost 15 years have transpired from direct planning to the inaugural transmission. Currently, police, fire and EMS have assigned channels in disparate parts of the radio spectrum, with some transmitting on frequencies in the 30, 40, 150, and 450 MHz ranges.

Typically, each service has one dispatch channel and two or three tactical channels they use when on site in order to move off the dispatch channel.

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Under the old system, not only were radios working on different frequency ranges, public safety also had to remember which channel to switch on depending on the situation. Police and fire could not communicate directly in many cases. And if dispatchers were trying to raise more than one officer at the same time, use of one frequency resulted in “pile ups” as dispatchers and police responded on the same channel to simultaneous events.

The new trunked system works similarly to cell phone towers that allow multiple conversations to be held at once. A trunked system uses a large range of frequencies in the 800 MHz range, with transmitters and receivers essentially containing computerized scanners that find the next open frequency. The radios are so sophisticated that a back-and-forth conversation between a dispatcher and a police officer in the field could take place on a different radio frequency each time the mic is keyed and the system will keep track of the conversation.

Maj. Almey Gray, director of communications; Lora L Nock, assistant director of communications, Bert Austin, former Dare County Sheriff (Front row L-R) Dave Cowan, retired director of communications; Talmadge Willis, CAD administrator, Sheriff Doug Doughtie

In natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, 800 MHz systems were credited with keeping communications open. In addition, the higher frequencies penetrate buildings more efficiently, allowing safety personal to communicate while indoors.

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Marshall Wright, a Motorola vice-present said, “Motorola is pleased to provide Dare County with the state-of-the-art ASTRO 25 Integrated Voice and Data system. Motorola has been providing mission critical solutions to public safety throughout North Carolina for many years and we look forward to completing the system this system that will benefit Dare County first responders.”

While each municipality has been required to invest in new radio equipment, the county portion of the system, which included all transmission equipment and radio towers, came to just over $7 million, considerably lower than the original estimated cost of $12 million.

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