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Washington County radio system nears completion

The Washington Police Department installed the new in-car radios a month ago in preparation for the new digital radio system. (Caitlin Yamada/ The Union)
The Washington Police Department installed the new in-car radios a month ago in preparation for the new digital radio system. (Caitlin Yamada/ The Union)

WASHINGTON — Washington’s new digital radio system has recently undergone a series of tests to prepare for the upcoming launch.

The week of Dec. 14 was spent testing the new system. Cara Sorrells, the dispatch supervisor for the county, said individuals went to more than 100 sites around the county to test the portable radios. These sites included buildings, both residential and commercial, schools and the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort.

“Many citizens, businesses, emergency responders and public safety personnel took time out of their day to assist us and let us have access to their buildings,” according to the Facebook page.

Sorrells said they plan on moving into the new building this week and the new system will be implemented for law enforcement Wednesday. Other agencies such as fire and EMS will be included in the following weeks.

During the City Council meeting last Tuesday, Police Chief Jim Lester said the in-car radios have been installed.

When the county decided to build a new communications center, a new radio system also was needed.

The last update was in 2000 and updates should be done every 10-12 years, said Washington County Supervisor Jack Seward Jr.

Because the current building was not built for handling an excess of technology, the electrical outlets could not handle any more devices being plugged in and a need for a new building became dire, he said.

“It’s basically a house that’s been modified over the years, and we have a new radio project going on [so] there was no way we could put new equipment in this outdated building,” Sorrells said, explaining it was difficult to complete work out of a space that was not built for the work being done inside. “We needed a state-of-the-art hardened building to put the new equipment in.”

Sorrells said due to narrowbanding, there are several places in the county where dispatch cannot get through to officers. Narrowbanding, Seward explained, was put in place by the federal government and decreases the power and effect of the radio signal.

“As they narrowbanded it, they sold those frequencies off to commercial wireless phone (companies),” he said.

The current system operates on 39 percent coverage and the new system will provide 95 percent coverage, Seward said. The county will be able to use the existing towers and purchase two more to support the upgraded radio equipment.