Sheriff’s office’s seamless radio is up and running
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After several years of work, the Hill County Sheriff's Office is fully connected to the radio system that will eventually provide seamless, high-tech radio for law enforcement and emergency personnel throughout the state. "We had a large meeting with the deputies yesterday and explained a few issues and went live this morning," Hill County Sheriff Don Brostrom said. The Interoperability Montana program, funded through state and local funds and through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will create the ability to communicate by radio across most of the state once it is done. The state has been divided into regions including the Northern Tier, which stretches across the northern part of the state from border to border. Most of the funding for the program has been through federal grants like the Byrne s Memor ial Jus t i c e Assistance Grant, which was obtained through collaboration of the sheriff's o f f i c e and the Hav re Po l i c e Department; a COPS grant available through the Interoperability Montana Program; the Stonegarden grant program focusing on the U.S. Border Patrol; Assistance to Firefighters grants; and, the largest source, grants through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Brostrom said the program has brought some $1.4 million to $1.5 million to Hill County to buy equipment for the radio system. "It's money that goes into stuff that we desperately needed that the local taxpayer doesn't have to fund," he added. Brostrom said the Wild Horse volunteer fire department has been fully hooked into the system, of which Havre is one of two administrative sites on the Northern Tier, for some time. The other administrative site, which also will add users and manage the system in the region, will be in Kalispell. The program has divided the state into different regions, with work proceeding in each region to set up and add different groups. The sheriff's office is the second to go fully on the system in Hill County, although some volunteer fire departments have had radios hooked in and other groups, like the Havre Police Department and the Havre Fire Department are very close. Work also is proceeding to define and set up groups in other counties in the region. The sheriff's office has been hooked into the system to test it for some time. Brostrom said the improvement is immense. "It's like going from a Geo to a Cadillac," he said, "going from a C system to an A-plus system." He added that he recently had to go to a meeting in Helena, and was able to communicate with his office using his hand-held radio the entire way. The system uses microwave relays and radio systems known as " t runked" sys tems t o increase the ability, and manageability, of radio communication. Towers transmit the signals, with the microwave system will automatically switch the user to the strongest tower available. Brostrom compared it to cellular phone service, where the user never has to worry about manually switching from one tower to another. Once all systems are up and running someone in the northeastern corner of the state could instantly communicate with someone in Beaverhead or Missoula counties using their handheld radios using a statewide talk group. The users are split into talk groups, such as one group for the sheriff's office and another for the Havre Police Department or a rural fire department, which allows groups to communicate with each other without interfering with other groups' communications. That can be set up for specific incidents as well. For example, a special incident talk group could be set to allow Havre police, Hill County sheriff personnel and Havre Public Works Department personnel to be on the same talk group. The people handling the incident would switch their radios to the specific setting for that talk group. That also could be set to allow departments across county lines, such as the Hill and Blaine county sheriff's offices and different fire departments, to communicate in the same talk group. The trunked system uses multiple channels, allowing up to three user groups to utilize the system at the same time.