More than $2.7 million has been invested in an upgraded radio communication system for emergency responders—including everyone from police to ambulance crews. The upgrade was mandated by state and federal governments to improve interagency communication ability. The dollars have been spent on radio towers and new 800 MHz radio equipment for every emergency response agency in the county.
The hills and valleys in this region can make it difficult to find a signal. Emergency crews were finding that while they had good coverage for mobile radios mounted to squad cars, the portable devices officers and others use when they arrive at a scene were not doing the job. Often workers were unable to reach dispatch personnel after they entered a building, an unsafe situation, said Dispatch Supervisor Mike Peterson. Several areas, including areas south of Winona, were not sufficiently covered, he said.
Peterson found a solution to the problem—devices called “repeaters”—that the Winona County Board recently approved for purchase. The repeaters allow the squad car radios to emit a larger radius of the radio signal so that mobile devices carried by workers can pick up the signal from the squad’s larger antennae. Peterson was able to work with state officials to secure a grant for 50 percent of the $400,000 price tag for the repeaters. The grant program was aimed at infrastructure like expensive towers, not equipment, said county administrator Duane Hebert. But Peterson was able to convince state officials that the repeaters would allow for better coverage throughout the county than would another $800,000 tower that would only improve a small area.
Peterson has also overseen years of work to make the upgrade, working through many grant programs offered by the state. So far, of the $2.76 million expense, more than $1.2 million has been defrayed by grant money.
His efforts were lauded during a recent board meeting when the project was reviewed. “This is an investment in officer safety,” said board member Wayne Valentine.