Blue Earth Cty. Radio Upgrades

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By Dan Linehan
The Free Press


MANKATO —

Blue Earth County plans to spend about $1 million over the next few years to convert its radio network, providing interoperability with other emergency responders and conserving bandwidth.
Jurisdictions across the state are modernizing their radio networks en masse ahead of an upcoming federal mandate to conserve bandwidth.
The state provided money to study new radio systems that would meet the so-called “narrowbanding” guidelines while allowing easing communication among government.
Blue Earth and Nicollet counties were among the first in this region to go through with a joint study, completed last fall. It compared two options on the radio spectrum: VHF and 800 megahertz.
The VHF option was deemed to be cheaper initially, but might require more work in the future with fewer government grants available to pay for it.
County staff recommended the 800 mhz system, which costs more at first but is expected to last longer and make better use of the state’s investments. The County Board agreed.
Given that interoperability is a value, local governments across Minnesota have formed regional radio boards to ease the transition. The south-central Minnesota board includes 10 counties and two cities, Mankato and Hutchinson.
A good example for that need to communicate across jurisdictions was the 2003 riots at Minnesota State University, Blue Earth County Information Technology Director Charlie Berg said.
“So many people responded from all over southern Minnesota but a lot of them couldn’t communicate with each other because of incompatible systems or incompatible channels,” he said.
Berg’s department is assisting in the transition because, he said, digital radio is becoming more “computer-like.”
The transition is expensive because of the need to buy new radios and electronics at radio towers. The state is building and leasing space on radio towers, providing what Berg called a “backbone” for other systems.
The city of Mankato is “deeply interested” in the radio discussions, but doesn’t have a copy of the study’s final report and hasn’t yet made a decision, Public Safety Director Jerry Huettl said.
The Free Press, Mankato, MN - BE Cty. radio upgrades

 
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