(Right now, it's difficult for police, fire and medical units in Gaston County to talk to each other because they use different "bandwidths", Sult said. Likewise, none of them could radio to police in Mecklenburg if they crossed the border on a chase.)
SWITCHING TO 800-MEGAHERTZ FREQUENCY SYSTEM
New police radio system to debut
Sophisticated setup will allow connections with other agencies, improve response times
DEBORAH HIRSCH firstname.lastname@example.org
In a few weeks, Gastonia police officers will be hooked up to a more sophisticated radio system that will allow them to connect directly to some other agencies in the region.
That means they'll be able to respond to calls faster, even if something happens across county lines.
Eventually, officials said, the system could streamline communication among emergency responders within the county and across the region.
"As more counties come on board, then we have the ability to support each other when something happens," said Gastonia police Chief Terry Sult. "You just switch a dial and you're talking to each other."
Right now, it's difficult for police, fire and medical units in Gaston County to talk to each other because they use different bandwidths, Sult said. Likewise, none of them could radio to police in Mecklenburg if they crossed the border on a chase.
That will change once the officers switch to the higher 800-megahertz frequency system, which is considered one of the most advanced and efficient systems available, Sult said.
It's also more reliable, he said. Because the N.C. Highway Patrol and Mecklenburg County agencies use the same frequency, Gastonia police could use their radio towers as backup if the five channels in Gaston County go down. At least twice in the past, Sult said, the police department couldn't send out cars for a half hour because a storm had disrupted radio signals or towers.
Mecklenburg agencies have been using the 800-megahertz system since 1989, said Dennis Baucom, who manages the Charlotte-Mecklenburg radio systems. In 2004, the county got a $6 million federal grant to install computer infrastructure in 11 surrounding counties so that dispatchers could patch their 800-megahertz frequency into whatever system the other county used, Baucom said.
It was a first step to streamline communication between different jurisdictions and response teams -- an issue that was raised after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Baucom said it has already helped agencies coordinate rescue efforts on the Catawba River and firefighting in Cabarrus County. Before, he said, Mecklenburg dispatchers could call dispatchers in other counties by phone. But this makes it a lot faster to get responders to the scene and injured people to hospitals.
"You remove that lag time," he said.
However, once individual Mecklenburg responders cross into another county, they still can't radio directly to responders from that county, and vice versa -- unless the county has upgraded to the 800-megahertz system.
Radio managers said that next step is coming.
"There's no longer an individual entity out there," said Tom Riley, technology support administrator for radio systems in Gaston County. "You have to work as a team. The future is regional for public safety people."
Several counties have been talking about upgrading and Union is already working on it, Baucom said. But Gaston is leading the way.
That's partly because Mecklenburg helped Gaston County install two radio towers with $900,000 from another federal grant. Baucom said that was done because Mecklenburg also needed a stronger signal to the west where firefighters were responding to many calls.
Gastonia police will be ready to switch to the new system in a couple of weeks when staff finish installing the dispatchers' radio consoles.
However, it could still be a while before all the officers are fully plugged in. Sergeants have new radios, but the department will need about $2 million to purchase enough for every police car and officer. Sult said that will have to come gradually, depending on the department budget.
Despite that expense, Sult said the new system has the potential to save the county about $24,000 a year and maybe more in maintenance and operation costs.
1st Gastonia and Gaston County are two different things, this is talking about the city of Gastonia. Gaston County just spent a ton on upgrades and won't be going anywhere anytime soon (direct from the comm center director).
I guess Gastonia PD finally got their grant money. That was the only way they would be getting it, now they will be joining the Char/Muck system. With the tower in southpoint and the "mini-site" in Cherryville they should have coverage in most of the city.
This is truly a sad day for law enforcement in Gaston County, the Gastonia channels work just fine and allow full interops with every other municipal law enforcement agency in the county. They could go to the mutual aid repeater as well as simplex if the cops were fully trained in how ot use their radios, now you will have a city on 800mhz while everyone near they will be on UHF.