‘Roger that’

New 800 Megahertz system allows free-flowing communication between all emergency responders

By Rachel Kytonen

Isanti County law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders are now enjoying free-flowing communication due to the implementation of its new emergency responder radio system.

Sergeant Chris Caulk, with the Isanti County Sheriff’s Department, said the new 800 Megahertz ARMER system allows local law enforcement agencies to communicate with virtually anyone across the state.

Sergeant Chris Caulk, with the Isanti County Sheriff’s Department, said Isanti County went live with its new Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) system in late May, and everything continues to run smoothly.

The ARMER system is an 800 megahertz digital radio system that allows for free-flowing communication among all first responders, state patrol, Allina and other law enforcement.

“No matter where we are now in the county, we can all talk to each other,” said Sgt. Caulk, who served as project manager for Isanti County. “As far as benefits to the citizens of Isanti County, this system gives us the ability to communicate during critical incidents. Also during big storms or natural disasters, we are able to communicate with all the different entities of the county.”

The ARMER system works on a network of towers throughout the state. For example, if one tower would get hit by a tornado, communication is transferred through another tower.

“We now have seamless communication between all public safety agencies,” Sgt. Caulk said. “Whether it’s during critical incidents or major disasters, our communication will always be there.”

Sgt. Caulk said the new ARMER system cost approximately $1.2 million. In September 2010, Isanti County approved contracts with Motorola for $361,404 and Granite Electronics for $158,135 for costs associated with implementing the ARMER system. The county also bonded $680,000 to help pay for the costs. Sgt. Caulk said in the end the county’s portion ended up costing around $550,000, with grants offsetting around $200,000 to $250,000 of those costs.

Sgt. Caulk said he first started working on the ARMER project in April 2009. He explained the county had to switch to the ARMER system because it was being mandated by the federal government, and also because the other counties within the Metropolitan Emergency Services Board were making the switch.

Sgt. Caulk said the ARMER system allows seamless communication between the counties.

“If during a pursuit a suspect starts heading into Anoka County, we can get patched into the Anoka Sheriff’s Department,” Sgt. Caulk explained. “It is unbelievable how easy it is to talk to other agencies during critical situations.”

Isanti County Highway Engineer Richard Heilman said the ARMER system is used for its day-to-day operations.

fr_Megahertz1.jpg: A look at one of the computer screens inside the Isanti County Sheriff’s dispatch office at the Isanti County Government Center in Cambridge.

“The system allows direct communication between highway department, law enforcement, fire department and safety rescue as some examples,” Heilman said. “One example is the storms we had this summer where trees were down and blocking roads. Our superintendent was able to directly talk to the various agencies and coordinate activities  for traffic safety and tree removal in a more efficient manner than previously available.”

Heilman said most of his department have noticed the benefits by switching to the ARMER system.

“Most employees have not noticed a major difference other than an improvement in sound clarity and coverage area,” Heilman said. “The Highway Superintendent has found the system very useful in dealing with emergency operations that can obviously occur at any time. Having the ability to talk directly with a sheriff’s deputy, on site in the middle of the night, regarding some road safety issue allows us to get a better  understanding faster of exactly what the issue is and what manpower and equipment might  be needed.”

Cambridge Police Department Chief Dave Pajnic said the new 800 Megahertz radio system has been an important addition to the Cambridge Police Department.

“There are numerous potential uses for the system. The 800 MHz system was recently used during the wind storm that caused significant damage throughout Cambridge,” Chief Pajnic said. “The radio system allowed police officers to communicate with members of other departments in a much more effective manner than would have been possible in the past. Officers have commented on how much easier it has made communicating, especially with other agencies.”

Chief Pajnic said the system was extremely helpful during the severe storms that whipped through the county this summer.

“While the department has also used the system in other situations, the use following the storm is one great example of where the community benefitted from the system,” Chief Pajnic said. “I believe that all the communities and agencies throughout Isanti County, such as police, fire, and public works will all be better served with this new system.”

Isanti Police Chief Ron Sager said the ARMER system has made a difference in Isanti.

“We really appreciate the fact the county made the switch to the new ARMER system,” Chief Sager said. “Previously we had areas in the city where we couldn’t get a signal from our old radios. But we haven’t had any problems since switching to the new system.”

Chief Sager noted specific areas in town where law enforcement couldn’t get a clear signal, particularly in the middle school.

“Since implementing the new system, our officers are noticing a huge difference in coverage,” Chief Sager said. “One example I can give is I was making an arrest up in Sandstone, and I was able to communicate very clearly with the main dispatch in Isanti County. Everything has been working great.”

Some of the talk groups on the radio can also be encrypted, which is a benefit when dealing with different tactical events and critical situations, Sgt. Caulk noted. He also said the radios have an emergency button on them that allows the officers to interrupt anyone speaking and talk for up to 30 seconds.

Sgt. Caulk said the portable radios can be used anywhere in the state.

“Officers from up here who worked down at the State Fair could bring their radios with them and be able to maintain communication with Isanti County,” Sgt. Caulk said. “The radios can be used anywhere in the state, without having them needing to be reprogrammed.”

Sgt. Caulk said overall the citizens, as well as first responders, are now safer as a result of the new system.

“The ARMER system is an amazing tool,” Sgt. Caulk said. “We have clear communication with all the different entities in the county, as well as with any government agency in the state. The new system has definitely made our jobs easier.”

The Isanti County Board’s approval was also necessary for the project.

“I would like to thank the county commissioners for moving with this project when they did back in 2009,” Sgt. Caulk said. “If we would have waited on implementing this, it would have cost a lot more in the end. By doing this now, we are ahead of the 2012 deadline that had been looming to get this done.”

Sgt. Caulk said he enjoyed being project manager for the ARMER system.

“I appreciate the fact I was allowed to oversee the project,” Sgt. Caulk said. “It was an approximate $1.2 million dollar project, and it was a successful project.”