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St. Louis County shifts to digital radio on time, under budget | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

Published February 13, 2013, 12:00 AM

St. Louis County shifts to digital radio on time, under budget

If you noticed Grandma’s police scanner went silent in the past few weeks, it didn’t signal the end of crime and fires. It’s just that the cops and firefighters are using new radios.

By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

If you noticed Grandma’s police scanner went silent in the past few weeks, it didn’t signal the end of crime and fires. It’s just that the cops and firefighters are using new radios.

And Grandma is going to have to buy an expensive new digital scanner if she wants to keep listening to 911 communications.

St. Louis County officials on Tuesday said they have finished the job of converting every law enforcement, rescue and fire unit in the county from analog to digital radios. Moreover, Sheriff Ross Litman said, they did it on time and $800,000 under budget.

The county joined the Minnesota State Patrol, state Department of Transportation and most other law enforcement agencies on Jan. 1 when the old radios went silent and all personnel went to digital equipment on the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response system, or ARMER.

In just St. Louis County, the move affected 185 different agencies, from the Sheriff’s Office and city police forces to volunteer fire departments and emergency responder paramedics as well as 911 emergency dispatchers. Duluth fire and police also switched over to the ARMER system.

“It’s meant better coverage, not just in remote areas but even inside buildings. We don’t have the dead areas we once had,’’ Hermantown Police Chief Jim Crace said. “It’s also crystal-clear. There’s no static.”

County Commissioner and Duluth police Officer Pete Stauber of Hermantown agreed.

“I’m amazed … what the men and women in this project have accomplished,’’ Stauber said. “The ARMER system is unbelievable.”

The digital nature of the new system gives 911 emergency administrators the ability to assign a channel to a specific incident. That channel can then be monitored by all local and assisting departments involved in the incident.

The system also allows departments and multiple agencies to have group discussions on radio, instead of just point-to-point between two people. And the new system means nearly all of the government agencies in the state are now able to communicate.

Crace noted that when members of his department volunteered to help during the 2011 Pagami Creek Fire in Lake County, they couldn’t use their own radios to talk with state and federal agencies.

“Now, most all of us will be on the same page,’’ Crace said.

And county deputies transporting prisoners half a state away can talk to their supervisors back in Duluth using their mobile radios.

St. Louis County also handled the switchover for Lake and Carlton counties, including nearly 100 training sessions for more than 1,500 personnel who now are using the radios. About 3,900 portable digital radios, 500 mobile radios in vehicles and 18 digital dispatch consoles were engineered and installed over the past several months across the three counties.

The cost for St. Louis County is about $7.1 million. The move to so-called narrow-band radio, required by the Federal Communications Commission, was approved by the St. Louis County Board in 2011 in a move heralded by law enforcement officers on Tuesday.

County taxpayers footed about $6 million of the cost, with state and federal grants covering the rest.

County officials on Tuesday praised the work of Bruce Hegrenes, technical supervisor who led the project, along with electronic technicians Tom Semmelroth, Vince Regan, Rob O’Connor, Les Flemming and John Zehowski, and emergency services manager Scott Camps and assistant center supervisor Dewey Johnson.St. Louis County shifts to digital radio on time, under budget | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

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