Emergency radio network funding welcomed

A government decision to spend $370 million on replacing Alberta’s aging emergency radio network is being welcomed by Red Deer City RCMP.

A government decision to spend $370 million on replacing Alberta’s aging emergency radio network is being welcomed by Red Deer City RCMP.

“If you ask me, the sooner the better,” said Insp. Ray Noble of the provincial initiative designed to improve communications between first responders.

Noble said the existing radio system, used by police since the Calgary 1988 Olympics, “has exceeded its capacity.” It’s getting old and obsolete, with some breaks in communications lines and dead spots in the province where no radio contact is possible.

While the “seamless” new radio system won’t eliminate all the dead spots, it will reduce them, said Noble, who added that technology has advanced considerably in recent years.

“There are a lot of features that are useful for law enforcement that simply didn’t exist in the old technology.”

The state-of-the-art system will be designed to link RCMP with municipal and First Nations police, fire and emergency personnel, as well as sheriffs, Alberta Emergency Management Agency, and government departments, such as transportation and fish and wildlife.

Noble said the radio network will be particularly useful during an emergency event comparable to the Pine Lake tornado, when police need to be in touch with a wide array of agencies and departments, which are expanding their roles to deal with emergency needs.

“At times like that, people are pressed into duties they don’t normally do,” said Noble — such as having highways workers clearing debris off roads and relocating people off site. “There will be more interagency (information) sharing.”

Bart Rowland, deputy fire chief for Red Deer’s Emergency Services, said ambulance services have a radio system that meets most of their needs within Central Alberta. “We’re very well covered for ourselves and the municipalities.”

But the new system will offer the capacity to tie in to ambulance services, municipalities, or agencies in outlying areas, for instance in Grande Prairie or Medicine Hat.

The system will require 400 communication towers across Alberta — some replacements and some new. Construction is expected to begin this month, with the project competition in 2014.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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