New ARMER radio system working well
By Sarah Smith
The next command was one from Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes to his dispatch center, wondering why dispatchers had not heard a deputy trying to call in.
Dispatch immediately responded to the deputy.
It was a rare moment of irritation for the generally affable sheriff.
And, according to Aukes, it was a rare glitch in the pricey new radio program called ARMER that is incredibly sophisticated to work, but a great system once the glitches have been worked out.
A year into the radio conversion that was to be in effect by 2013, mostly rave reviews are coming in for the radio system that allowed some 50 fire departments to communicate with each other while fighting the Green Valley Fire last spring.
But there have also been challenges. Occasionally a dispatcher has had to relay communications from one squad car to another on the road, or, like the incident above, receive a call from the boss as to why no one responded to the deputy.
Aukes chooses his words carefully discussing the system.
“Things are going pretty well, actually very well,” he said. “Any time you go to a system that is as sophisticated as something like that it’s a learning curve and you get some bugs worked out. But it’s going very well actually.”He said he’s not aware that there are communications issues between squad cars.
“The only issue we have and it’s getting worked on is that one of the dispatch radios, because we have two for two stations, comes across as very quiet and that’s an adjustment Motorola hasn’t been able to figure out yet.”
Communications to that radio need some fine tuning, Aukes acknowledged.
“That day I was just wondering what the deal is. They didn’t hear him,” Aukes said of the deputy calling in. “And that could happen with any radio system. But overall, when you look at communicating with a lot of different agencies, whether it’s fire departments, first responders, ambulances, neighboring counties, it’s absolutely the perfect system for something like that.”
The system features a way for dispatchers to isolate emergency specialties into “talk groups.”
“If you get a medical where you have first responders, and ambulance and the deputies there we’ll assign them to a certain talk group or a certain channel,” Aukes said. “If you get another one, a fire, we’ll give them another one (talk group) so there’s a lot of them we could use but in all honesty, you’re only going to get a couple at any one time.”
There are still things to work out, Aukes acknowledged about the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response, ARMER.
“In radio programming, again, it’s a very sophisticated system,” Aukes said. “With all the meetings we had beforehand, you try to figure out the channels you’re going to need, what possible future expansion we may have and we program all the radios you think you’re going to have. Once you get started on it it’s very typical to have to re-program, as many as three times because new channels are needed. Just recently the State Patrol wanted one of our ‘com-channels’ where incidents are assigned.”
Aukes said the infamous “dead spots” in the county “get fantastic coverage” due to the fact there are four extra towers to bounce signals off of, just across the county lines. The county has three of its own (Little Mantrap, Nevis and Kabekona) and uses four in adjacent counties, Aukes said.
“Historically the remote areas of our county like Becida, Badoura, those have fantastic coverage now because of these other towers,” Aukes said of the “black holes” the county has not been able to communicate from.
Another plus has been the cost, said Chief Dep. Scott Parks. Initially estimated to cost taxpayers $1.2 million, with even earlier estimates reaching $2 million, Parks said the county has acquired only $810,000 of equipment.
“We received about $485,000 in grant dollars,” Parks said, leaving taxpayers responsible for the balance.
First Responders and five fire departments have spent their own funds. Like the county, much of their funding came in the form of grants.
Aukes said working through the glitches is part of the steep learning curve for the state-of-the-art system. And if dispatch doesn’t hear a deputy calling in, chances are the boss will.