Police scanner silence - Why citizens aren't hearing everythingIf you’ve been listening to your trusty old police scanner you may be missing something – half the action. Douglas County has started broadcasting on a new digital frequency and some information isn’t picked up by analog scanner units. Once the county goes completely digital, analog scanners will find a new home, in the recycling bin.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
If you’ve been listening to your trusty old police scanner you may be missing something – half the action.
Douglas County has started broadcasting on a new digital frequency and some information isn’t picked up by analog scanner units. Once the county goes completely digital, analog scanners will find a new home, in the recycling bin.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mandated that all emergency radio systems make the switch by January 1, 2013.
Earlier this year Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen predicted the change to the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) system would come November 1. Due to construction and equipment delays, the live date has been pushed into December.
Once the new law enforcement area in the Services Center is complete, possibly in January, the 800-megahertz equipment will be at full capacity.
“Right now we’re using about 3 percent of the ARMER system,” said Sergeant Tom Egan, communications supervisor with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. “Not to its fullest capability.”
Douglas County dispatch is using mobile control stations in their temporary office in the courthouse until the move into their permanent space across the street. Mobile stations were brought in when the old equipment fizzled out before the new ARMER system could be initiated.
WHY SWITCH TO ARMER?
Picture the old radio dials in cars, the kind that had a red line that rolled over digits to hone in on a station. When car radios became digital, more stations became accessible. ARMER is kind of like that in that it creates more options.
“The FCC is running out of radio frequencies,” Egan said.
Until recently an analog radio system operating in the area of 150-kilohertz was used. To use the 800-megahertz ARMER system, all previously used radio equipment had to be replaced.
Beyond the increase in channels, is the amount of data that can be handled. Egan said each channel can hold 100 talk groups and each radio can handle up to 1,000 talk groups.
“One of the plusses of the ARMER system is it is interoperable,” Egan said. “Douglas County could communicate with Duluth via radio.”
In order for all this communication to transmit, the dispatch equipment was replaced at law enforcement centers, fire departments, hospitals and in all emergency vehicles.
ARMER equipment at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is connected through the monopole at the northeast corner of the Services Center. This tower is in line with the Garfield tower. Throughout the state there are approximately 300 towers outfitted with ARMER equipment.
If you’re listening to an old scanner today, chances are all you will hear is the dispatch center’s initial page to emergency personnel.
What you hear on the scanner is changing too. Previously if a car accident resulted in injury, the call would be referred to as a “10-52.” Now more plain language is being used, such as a “crash, with injuries.” Egan said they will be getting away from “10 codes” but will continue using about a dozen.
BUYING A NEW SCANNER
When purchasing a replacement scanner, be sure it has “digital trunking.” A trunked system is like an office telephone set up. One line is split into multiple extensions that can all be used at the same time.
Digital scanners have been on the market for the past few years. It wasn’t until recently that they have become popular.
“Lately we can’t keep them on the shelves,” said Steve Andres, owner of RadioShack in Alexandria.
Andres noticed more digital units have been purchased in the past six to eight months. Twelve have been sold in Alexandria since September 1.
“Over the past month the store has been flooded with calls,” Andres said.
Andres said the biggest shock for most people is the change in price. Analog units used to run $100 to $150. Digital 800-megahertz trunking devices cost approximately $425 at RadioShack.
The new digital units need to be programmed with software to function properly. RadioShack offers the service for an additional $30. More expensive units that have some self-programming features are available for around $500.
For more information on the ARMER system, visit the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s website at http://bit.ly/SEujK2.
SCANNING THE SYSTEM
December 2012 Douglas County is expected to go digital on the ARMER system.
What’s known as “10 Codes” are being replaced with plain language descriptions.
$425 is the approximate cost of a digital scanner. Analog units cost $100.
WHY THE SWITCH?
Radio has been around a long time and the number of unoccupied frequencies was running low. The FCC has mandated that all emergency radio systems become Project 25 (P25) compliant. P25 took the 25-kilohertz radio spectrum (wideband) and split it in two, increasing the number of available radio frequencies (narrowband). The narrowband channels operate on a 12.5 frequency. Douglas County opted to partner with the state and migrate to the ARMER system which is P25 compliant.