County to seek best radio upgrade


by Sarah Squires

Might have to ask state to reconsider type it funds

In Winona County, there has been no greater testament to the need for emergency worker communication upgrades than the August floods. From State Patrol to National Guard to local crews, radio systems were not always compatible and the need to match up was made more evident than ever.

But the push for radio compatibility has been bearing down since the aftermath of 9/11. The 9/11 Commission made radio upgrades one of its recommendations to Congress, and the Federal Communications Commission has mandated that all emergency agencies switch to a narrow band digital radio communication system by 2013.

Making the switch won't be easy, or cheap. Regional emergency agencies must work together to ensure that they make the switch at the same time, lest making communication problems worse between neighbors with some still working the old system.

The new, digital upgrades come as two options.

First, the 800 megahertz system, employed by the State Patrol, MnDOT and more recently Olmsted County. This system works like a cell phone and would require expensive towers to be erected to ensure it would work everywhere in the varied terrain of Winona County.

The second option is a narrowband VHF system. This type of system wouldn't require the expensive towers, but could still communicate with those operating on the 800 MHz systems.

But the state is only providing funding incentives for counties switching to the 800 MHz systems, a system which might prove less effective and more costly for the bluffs and valleys of Southeastern Minnesota.

The County Board approved hiring an engineering firm to study what might be the best option for Winona County, with Wabasha County also studying the issue. If it is determined that narrowbanding would be the best approach for the county, the county will work with state representatives to draft special legislation aimed at providing the same financial incentives for the narrowband systems currently being offered for the 800 MHz option.

The firm Elert & Associates will conduct the study with a base cost of $28,500. The county will also pay $45 - $150 per hour for the study plus travel and phone expenses.


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