County thinking digital

Routt to expand communications system for state's use

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For several years, state officials have, through an initiative, encouraged emergency responders and other agencies to switch to a digital communications system.

Routt County officials have yet to make plans to switch over completely to the 800 MHz digital trunk radio system.

However, the county soon will be expanding the system for the state's use. Agencies such as the Colorado State Patrol already are using 800 MHz radios.

The project will bring additional equipment, including microwave equipment and antenna systems, to three sites in Routt County: King Canyon Mountain, Hayden and Farwell.

Routt County has received an $870,645 state energy and mineral impact grant to pay for the estimated $1.6 million project, and the state's Division of Information Technologies has given the county $137,600. The rest of the project's cost will be covered by what county officials are calling "in-kind" monies because the current VHF equipment will support it.

County officials say the project will basically feed into the "backbone" of the state's current 800 MHz system in the same way that new cell phone towers improve cellular service.

The state's changeover initiative is intended to increase what is called interoperability, or the ability to communicate, among agencies. Routt County's project will promote this goal, said Faith Mendoza, the county's communications director.

"It will enhance the 800 service in Routt County," Mendoza said. "It will allow Routt County to operate on the 800 when incidents happen to the point that we have to connect with others in the 800 system."

Mendoza also said "There are no plans currently to completely fold over to the 800 system."

One disadvantage of the 800 MHz system is that officials cannot be paged, said Chuck Vale, the county's director of emergency management. Another is that it may not work well through buildings and mountains.

However, he said, "If it's all done and everyone is on it, there are a lot of advantages. To get there is challenging."

Vale said Routt County is testing the system, which is installed in his car and in the county's dispatch center.

County Commissioner Doug Monger said the county has been taking good care of the area's communications needs. The VHF system was updated early this decade, and adding a new system would be redundant, he said.

"We've done a good job taking care of our own interests," Monger said.

He said officials aren't sure whether the 800 MHz system works well and that it's expensive.

"The investment is huge," he said.

Monger said the commissioners will not move forward to make the 800 MHz system operable countywide unless agencies support it.

Linda Koile, Oak Creek police chief, said she would need more information before deciding whether to support the system.

"It's very expensive; it could break a small department's budget," she said. "This is something I need to investigate further."

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