County rebuilds communications system
Old radio systems, competition for tax dollars and limited radio spectrum were creating numerous interagency communications problems in San Diego County, Calif. Probably the most important problem, however, was intergovernmental and interagency territoriality in the county. That was true even though every public safety and public service agency agreed that a shared radio communications network was an investment the county should make.
In the early 1990s, the county Department of Information Services (DIS) proposed a regional board made up of users from the participating agencies, who would report through the county DIS staff to the county board of supervisors. But agencies contributing their 800 MHz frequencies to the system – and cities concerned with how the county was handling other regional issues – did not want to cede the majority of system control to the county.
At a series of strategic planning meetings in early 1994, the city of Carlsbad hosted other local communities, Caltrans and county DIS staff, and the group completely reworked the original plan. In 1995, the board of supervisors signed an agreement creating the independent San Diego County Regional Communications System (RCS). Currently, 116 local, county and state government agencies are RCS partners or customers.
The county allocated a budget of $83.4 million for RCS to rebuild the countywide communications system. About half that amount paid for the Astro voice and data communications system infrastructures from Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola. The rest covered the cost of key components, including mobile and portable radios for county departments; the Sheriff’s Department communications center and dispatch consoles; and computer-aided dispatch systems. Member agencies funded their user equipment locally. Today, more than 7,000 mobile and portable radios are operating on a system capable of supporting 13,000. The system provides 97 percent radio coverage to the county’s 4,200 square miles that range from areas below sea level to mountains reaching 7,000 feet.
The data portion of the system supports 3,000 users with significant future capacity. It also will provide access to crime databases, like the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System and the National Crime Information Center.
Consequently, through cooperation and planning, San Diego County has a communications system that will accommodate its needs today and provide a platform for future growth.