Friday, March 12, 2010

Public Safety Radio Changes

Mesa County's public safety agencies are making significant changes in how they communicate via radio. These changes will have an effect on anyone who listens to a police scanner locally.

Field personnel have been in training for the last several weeks in the operation of their new radios, which are integrated into the State of Colorado Digital Trunked Radio System, or "DTR" for short. This system is also used by most of the neighboring counties, as well most state agencies, including the Colorado State Patrol and CDOT.

For those interested, I will go into further detail on this in another post later. In the meantime, changes have been effected that will immediately impact the average scanner listener in Grand Junction and Mesa County, many of whom do not own a scanner capable of receiving channels in the 800 Megahertz band, using what is called P25 Digital Trunked Radio.

This system allows for numerous groups of users to share a pool of frequencies from a number of transmitters located across the county and the state. A computer controls the channel allocation. The user's voice is digitized as part of the process. This has been shown in most cases to enhance reception, and helps to facilitate encryption of the user's voice.

For the local scanner enthusiast, unless you already own a trunking scanner or actively monitor an online scanner feed, you'll be shut out of the bulk of the activity.

As of this writing, the Grand Junction Police appear to have switched all of their operations to the DTR. Their main VHF radio channel has fallen silent. The Mesa County Sheriff is using both the old and new systems in a simulcast configuration. Fire and EMS operations remain unchanged, but a changeover of some type is likely in the near future.

Here's some direction for local monitoring enthusiasts in the short term:

Scanners:
There are numerous models out there, and all of them carry a pretty hefty price tag. One radio that will still do the job locally (there are other issues related to monitoring on the Front Range) is the Radio Shack PRO-96/2096. It's been discontinued by the store chain, but is still available on places like Ebay. The scanner still enjoys extensive use in many areas.

There are other models with many more features and capabilities, such as the GRE PSR-500/600. These scanners allow for the monitoring of channels in the 700 Mhz band, along with the EDACS ESK trunked systems used extensively in Metro Denver. There is an excellent comparison chart that shows each unit's capabilities and price.

Also, if you end up purchasing one of these units, there is excellent programming software available from a company called Starrsoft. The software will also allow the remote monitoring and control of some of these scanners, including from some smartphones. Cool..

Online Monitoring: There is a very robust and knowledgeable hobbyist community in Mesa County and across Colorado. Combined with some very forward-thinking and entrepreneurial radio enthusiasts, an extensive network of online scanner feeds has been established through the comprehensive Radio Reference website. Feeds are available for most of Colorado's counties, with coverage within all 50 states.

Mesa County's online feed is available here. It is also available for monitoring from many models of wireless smartphones with Internet access. Using a service such as Moodio and this link, the audio stream is available via a standard music player. Additionally, the Emergency Radio app for the IPhone is very useful for keeping tabs on hundreds of scanner feeds around the country.
There are many encrypted channels on the new system, but most of the local traffic that interests legitimate users (law-abiding citizens, the media, etc.) is broadcast 'in the clear'.

The process by which public safety agencies utilize technology to accomplish significant goals, such as a transition to a new radio system, can be a daunting and exhaustive one. Having been involved in many of these processes over the years, I wish our local agencies the best for a smooth and uncomplicated move to this newer technology.

I'll have more to say later about the technologies and processes involved, and what they mean for the future of public safety communications, and the ability of citizens to follow the activities of their public servants.

Have a good weekend.

1 comment:

Gene Kinsey said...

John,

Thanks for the links. Hey- Happy Birthday too!