New communications system for Lincoln County dispatch

Posted:  Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - 10:15am

In March, Lincoln County Communications Center launched a new tower-based simulcast system capable of transmitting and receiving both analog and digital signals. The system has seven towers throughout the county to guarantee range and guard against dropped signals.

Besides safeguarding communications for public services, the project aims to make a full switch to digital communications in the long term. “While the simulcast system is capable of going digital, it’s just not there yet,” said Lincoln County Communications Director Joe Westrich. “The cost to change over will be significant.”

Asked about the difference between the current analog communication and the eventual digital communication, Westrich said with digital, voices will be clearer and the range of signals will increase. “Anytime the county is upgrading communications and progressing with technology in general, communication between dispatch and police or fire crews, for example, will be clearer and therefore safer.” While some interference could be expected depending on atmospheric conditions or other factors, there would be significantly less interference going forward with a digital communications system, he said.

When can dispatch be expected to phase out analog transmissions? “The main thing is the money. After all the details are flushed out — such as licensing fees which may cost up to $15,000 — the real cost will be the radios themselves,” said Westrich. Every responder, response vehicle, and dispatch will need to be equipped with new radios.

To soften the financial blow, Westrich plans to seek out special grants from the Department of Homeland Security. Cost is especially relevant for the small volunteer fire departments in Lincoln County. Until all of the county’s police and fire departments and emergency medical services can make the switch to digital equipment, dispatch calls will remain analog.