Colorado agencies ride digital airwaves

Colorado agencies ride digital airwaves

Engineer Sharon Clermont enters data at a wireless communications command center in Larimer County, Colo., using Motorola's Astro SmartZone digital radio communications.

Natural disaster sparks efforts to create integrated communications system

By Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

During a 1997 flash flood, public safety officials in Larimer County, Colo., were faced with a situation best described by Strother Martin in 'Cool Hand Luke': What we've got here is a failure to communicate.

Officials in the Loveland Police Department and the state highway patrol could not talk to one another because they were running incompatible radio systems, Loveland Capt. John Walker said.

The lack of systems interoperability slowed rescue operations.

But the communications impasse 'provided the immediate catalyst to help us deal with our interoperability issues,' Walker said. 'It gave us the fuel to move forward.'

Several city and county departments forged a partnership with Motorola Inc. to develop an integrated digital wireless communications system.

Phase 1 of the project will link 600 radios to the Loveland fire and police departments, the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colo., and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District through Motorola's Astro SmartZone digital radio communications system.

The organizations struck on an innovative way to maintain the system, Walker said.

Talk before action

'We've been discussing this for years,' he said. 'It always comes down to who's going to manage it and who's going to control it. Motorola made an offer that they would manage and maintain the system, so the group of public service agencies wouldn't have to worry about it.'

The agencies leased equipment through Motorola, Walker said, 'so we get all the upgrades, but we don't need a big initial outlay of capital. No one region had to bring up a big communications structure or network.'

Motorola this summer installed the hardware and software, connected the site equipment to the fiber-optic and microwave networks and configured the central dispatch center to support a wide-area system.

The SmartZone system operates on the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials Project 25 digital standard.

Project 25 is a set of communications specifications agreed on by officials in 1992, said Chuck Jackson, vice president and director of systems planning for Motorola.

Project 25 sets standards for modem speeds, digital voice data and other technical specifications.

Before 1992, radio communications systems were all proprietary, Jackson said.

'If you bought an Ericsson system [from Ericsson Inc. of Richardson, Texas], it wouldn't talk to a Motorola system and vice versa,' he said.

Four radio towers connect to the main controller site at the Platte River Power Authority over T1 lines: sites on Bald Mountain, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy, Buckhorn Mountain and Horsetooth Mountain.

The controller runs on a fault-tolerant dual-processor server from Sun Microsystems Inc.

Public safety officials will access the wireless system over Motorola's XTX 3000 portable radios and car-mounted Spectra digital mobile radios.

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