COQUILLE — The Coos County Sheriff’s office wants to update its aging analog radio system, which hasn’t been updated since 2004.
The Sheriff’s Office would like to bring the analog system into the digital age. However, there are some complications with completing this task.
Coos County Sheriff's Capt. Kelley Andrews said, “We could go to digital on one frequency but not all of them yet. The problem with going digital is that every small fire agency has to get digital radios and they can’t afford that.”
To update the entire radio system the sheriff’s office has to replace its dispatch consoles, radios on five different tower sites, as well as the microwaves on the towers.
“The dispatch center is old,” Andrews said.
Dispatchers for the sheriff’s office currently work a system that runs Windows NT, a computer operating system that’s almost 25 years old.
The simulcast system allows deputies to remotely send a transmission to the nearest tower, which repeats that frequency and sends it to all the other towers in the area.
“What it does is it retransmits over all of the towers. So it doesn’t matter where you are in the county you can hear that frequency all over the county,” Andrews saiIn 2016, the sheriff’s office applied for a grant to fix its radio system. The money was granted to them, but was then taken away to be used on a different project.
“We’re re-applying for that grant this year, but that may only be enough to pay for a portion of this,” Andrews said.
To replace the entire system it’s going to cost $2.3 million, the grant the sheriff’s office is applying for is only for $600,000. If awarded, the grant will only be enough to update the consoles at the dispatch center, which is currently the radio system's biggest problem.
As an example, Andrews said there’s more technology in a bag phone than the technology in the consoles at the dispatch center. In the early 1990s, officers used to carry around large phones that were housed in a bag and plugged into the twelve volt outlet in their cars.
Andrews believes the old equipment is a result of poor planning, when the radios were updated last there was no plan put in place to replace the equipment when it got old.
“We are currently in the process of making a plan for the replacement of whatever system we can get, but I’m looking 20 years down the road for two guys beyond me,” Andrews said.
According to Andrews, the county currently budgets around $660,000 for dispatch services. That money is just to maintain the current system operable, none of that money is going toward updating dispatch.
The last time the sheriff’s radio dispatch system was updated was in 2004, and was a direct result of 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“They saw after 9/11 that the communication among agencies was not the greatest in New York City. They started expanding that out, they wanted first responders to be able to talk to each other,” Andrews said.
Even if the sheriff’s office is awarded the grant for which it’s applying, it is still roughly $1.7 million short of updating the whole system.