New radio system that first aiders can use to remain in contact

BENTONVILLE – Some of Benton County’s first responders will soon be able to better communicate between authorities and improve safety.

The sheriff’s office will soon have a new radio system along with some police and volunteer fire departments. Starting the fourth week of September, they will be using handheld radios to communicate over the Arkansas Wireless Information Network.

The state owns the network and Motorola provides the equipment.

Kenneth Paul, operations major for the sheriff’s office, said the Arkansas State Police, the state wildlife and fish commission, and law enforcement agencies across the state are using the network.

The new system cost $ 3.75 million. The county used $ 1.75 million from its reserve and borrowed $ 2 million.

The system improves security for local MPs and officials, Paul said. The radios can be found by GPS tracking and show the officer’s location. This is helpful in search and rescue situations so that the agencies can keep track of where their officers are. The tracking function is also useful if something should happen to an officer and he was unable to respond to dispatchers.

“It will allow for better reporting,” said Robert McGowan, Benton County’s director of public safety. “One of the main issues is that there are areas where the current system prevents them from being broadcast on the radio. This system addresses that.”

Paul said the new system will have up to 90% coverage with the portable radios, while the units in vehicles will have 99.99% coverage.

“We’ve had places in the county, especially in eastern Benton County, where we had no coverage at all,” Paul said of the old system. “When you left town and went to these areas, you called the dispatch department and let them know you would be out of the air.”

Paul said the transition to the new system will begin in September when the sheriff’s office distributes the portable radios to MPs and other agencies.

“We’ll wait a couple of weeks to resolve any issues and then put the cell phones in our vehicles,” he said. “It will take about a month for the radios to be installed in all vehicles.”

The sheriff’s office purchased 601 portable radios and 356 mobile radios for vehicles. The county also bought 175 digital pagers for the volunteer fire departments, which cost $ 121,625, Paul said.

Motorola will install the system and it will connect to seven towers across the county: one each in Bella Vista, Garfield, Highfill, Gravette and Siloam Springs and two in Rogers.

Police departments dispatched by the county’s Central Communications bought their own radios, Paul said.

Beaver Lake fire chief John Whisenant said his department will receive 18 handheld radios, 14 pagers and eight mobile units for vehicles. He said his department’s main source of income was light taxes and it couldn’t afford to buy the radios and pagers.

The current communication system is out of date and there are reporting issues disrupting his firefighters in communicating with shipping and with each other in scenes, he said.

The new system will solve these problems, said Whisenant.

“I don’t think it will be a difficult transition as the county has released information about the system,” he said.

Police departments in Rogers, Fayetteville and Springdale are using the wireless network, Paul said. Washington County is installing the system, he said. Police departments in Bentonville and Rogers use different digital communication systems, but Paul said they can still communicate with the departments.

Paul said the sheriff’s office had been using the current radio system for more than 20 years.

McGowan said the console, which is the computer that runs the radio system for shipping, is being updated. The console will work in tandem with the radio system, he said.

Jennifer Reynolds, director of central communications, does not expect any major problems for her 29 full-time dispatchers when using the new consoles.

Washington County voters approved 0.25% sales tax for one year in March to pay for a new emergency communications system.

Washington County’s Sheriff’s Office Captain Josh McConnell said in March the county was working out details of contracts for the $ 8.5 million system.

The money will be used to purchase equipment such as 12 shipping consoles and to build the infrastructure including four communication towers.

McConnell said the towers will be built in Hazel Valley and near Winslow, Morrow and Lincoln. He said seven of the twelve dispatch consoles would be made available to the sheriff’s office and five to the central ambulance service.

Centcom Director Jennifer Reynolds will be in the Benton County Administration Building in Bentonville on Friday, August 14, 2020 at a monitor that controls the radio system. Benton County installs a new radio system. The consoles are currently being worked on in Benton County Central Communications. Visit nwaonline.com/200815Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / Charlie Kaijo)

Centcom Director Jennifer Reynolds looks at a shipping console in the Benton County Administration Building in Bentonville on Friday, August 14, 2020. Benton County installs a new radio system. The consoles are currently being worked on in Benton County Central Communications. Visit nwaonline.com/200815Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / Charlie Kaijo)

Robert McGowan, director of public safety for Benton County, examines a monitor controlling the radio system in the Benton County Administration Building in Bentonville on Friday, August 14, 2020. Benton County installs a new radio system. The consoles are currently being worked on in Benton County Central Communications. Visit nwaonline.com/200815Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / Charlie Kaijo)

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