September 26th, 2018

Officials welcome radio system upgrade

By Collin Gallant on November 7, 2017.

Medicine Hat News

Fire crews and police in Medicine Hat could be on an Alberta-wide first responders radio system in early 2018.

That is about 18 years after the provincial government first announced the venture and six years after the city earmarked millions to upgrade its failing system during the wait.

On Monday, city council approved a near $2-million contract to buy up-to-date equipment and access the new Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System.

“It’s important to get our emergency services in contact with other agencies — that’s the big benefit,” said corporate services commissioner Brian Mastel.

It will allow direct radio communication between city police and the RCMP, city and county fire crews, as well as ambulance services.

The city will also use the system for roads, transit and utility crews, and, because it is operated by the province, the city no longer has to maintain or expand its radio tower network.

“It can be very expensive for a community to do on its own,” said Mastel.

Mayor Ted Clugston said public safety is important, and modernizing the 25-year-old system is critical.

“I know it’s a very expensive item, but I think citizens realize that during an emergency, we have to be ready to roll.”

Having all first responders able to communicate directly with each other was discussed as a goal of the Alberta government in 2000, but co-ordinating that effort has proved a huge task.

Alberta spent $438 million from 2008 to 2016 installing required towers and also to co-ordinate hundreds of local fire and police services, RCMP detachments and Alberta Health Service ambulance services.

In June 2016, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said in light of the Fort McMurray wildfires the system was needed and would role out that year.

“It’s a much more robust system,” said public services commissioner Karen Charlton.

Harris Canada Systems will provide the equipment and installation for $1.98 million, according to the tender that had six qualified submitters. Other values have not been made public.

The 2015 budget item, valued at $2.5 million, shows the cost to be covered by borrowing.

The recent item states the equipment could arrive in January then be set up and operating by March 2018.

In 2012, city officials said its own local system could no longer wait for the province to move ahead and recommended $1.5 million be spent on upgrades to keep it operating reliably.

Work to improve the then 20-year-old system was done to coincide with the building of a new dispatch centre in the Second Street Police Station expansion and also the creation of an alternate dispatch site.

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