Santa Fe County aims to enhance emergency communications with high-tech radio system upgrade

April 4, 2024
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Current radio technology challenges in Santa Fe County

Santa Fe County firefighters and sheriff’s deputies currently face significant communication challenges due to outdated radio technology.

This technology often leads to disrupted emergency communications and creates dead zones in some rural areas of the county.

Public safety leaders have highlighted the difficulties this causes for emergency responders, particularly when responding to public safety threats or distress calls.

As the responders approach an emergency, they may find their radios become unintelligible or go silent, leaving them without vital contact with dispatchers or other responders.

Plans for a new state digital radio system

County officials are planning to transition to a state-owned, more advanced radio system in the spring of 2025.

This move, however, depends on securing approximately $5 million in additional funding.

The proposed upgrade to the state’s digital radio system is expected to improve the clarity of radio tones, encrypt first responders’ messages, facilitate communication with other agencies’ responders, and expand radio coverage across current dead zones.

Sheriff Adan Mendoza and Fire Chief Jacob Black both emphasized the importance of reliable communication for public safety, noting the current VHF system’s limitations and the anticipated benefits of the new state system, Project 25.

Funding and technological advancements

The upgrade to the Digital Trunked Radio System, or Project 25, is eagerly awaited by county officials.

It will require an estimated $8.1 million, with the county still needing about $5 million more to proceed.

This system will bring encrypted communications, preventing unauthorized access to first responder communications and addressing safety concerns highlighted by both Mendoza and Black.

Despite previous considerations for upgrades and some funding allocations, a significant funding gap remains.

The move towards the state system is seen as critical for reversing declines in communication quality and reliability, with additional benefits like improved inter-agency cooperation and expanded coverage.

FSJA Comment

The planned transition of Santa Fe County to a more advanced radio communication system signifies a critical step towards enhancing public safety.

The challenges posed by the current outdated system have been a considerable concern for first responders, who rely heavily on effective communication during emergencies.

The move towards a state digital radio system, Project 25, with its promise of encrypted communications, improved clarity, and expanded coverage, is a testament to the county’s commitment to public safety.

This upgrade addresses the technical limitations of the old VHF system and adapts to the evolving needs of emergency response in the 21st century.

The endeavor underscores the importance of investing in technology that can safeguard the community and first responders alike.

As Santa Fe County seeks the necessary funding to realize this project, the implications of this upgrade extend beyond immediate operational benefits, potentially setting a standard for other counties facing similar challenges.

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