Homeland Security and Public Safety

California County Goes High-Tech to Improve Communications

Software-based system gives San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s officers the ability to use smartphones to communicate with dispatch.

 

A new military-used, software-based dispatch system has improved communications and efficiency in the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office in California.

Launched in May, the system gives local police the ability to use their smartphones, instead of bulky portable radios, to communicate with dispatch. In addition, the technology enables dispatchers to combine multiple frequencies so officers and government agencies from different municipalities can talk to each other on one channel.

Although the county isn’t retiring its traditional handheld radios, the new technology gives officers a reliable option in areas where radio reception is problematic. The increased flexibility is something the county has found helpful over the last few months.

“This system allows us to actually click and drag frequencies into a common box and patch them all together,” said Tim Olivas, undersheriff with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office. “That way the officer out in the field and the dispatch centers all stay on their primary frequency, but we can patch whichever stations we need together and communicate at the field level, which we never have been able to do before.”

For example, county officers can now connect to entities such as the California Highway Patrol and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection together on one channel. This increases the ability of San Luis Obispo County to manage any type of event and improve response times.

The new dispatch system is completely IP-based, containing no proprietary hardware. Dispatchers use their existing computers for all communications tasks. That differs from various hybrid systems that require a user to use a vendor’s own physical hardware, or bridge different pieces of equipment together.

Since the new dispatch center’s technology is interoperable, it also shouldn’t have any issues connecting with FirstNet, the nationwide public safety network being established by the federal government. According to Mike Bostic, director of customer advocacy, public safety and security for Raytheon, the software from Twisted Pair will enable San Luis Obispo to connect to any other system no matter whose technology it is.

Project Details

The communications system took about six weeks to install and test and went live in late May. Raytheon provided an interoperability gateway, while Twisted Pair’s WAVE Dispatch Communicator was used to turn PCs into dispatch consoles and provides the software for mobile devices to be used as multi-channel radios.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office has a two-year maintenance contract on the system. Financial information on the project was not made available.

Replacing the old dispatch system was a two-step process. Raytheon arrived to do the installation on April 8. In the first step, the company changed out half the dispatch room to the new equipment. So for a couple of weeks, both the old and new systems were being used.

Once the trial run of the system proved successful, the other half of the room was replaced. The entire dispatch center was operating the new technology as of May 25. The center itself also received a facelift, as new furniture and carpeting were installed.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson was impressed with how seamless the conversion process was and has had no complaints about the dispatch system. He explained that a couple of months ago there was a blackout in the area and his immediate concern was whether the dispatch center remained up when the generator kicked in. To his relief, there were no issues and dispatchers seem pleased with the upgrade.

“We were immediately operational and so far we really see nothing but success and really no issues,” Parkinson said. “It takes a period of time to work out the bugs and this one has been extremely smooth for such a significant project and such a significant piece of technology that we are extremely dependent on.”

This article was originally published by Government Technology.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Emergency Management. He also regularly contributes to Public CIO and Government Technology magazines. Brian started his journalism career as a full-time writer in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He can be reached at bheaton@emergencymgmt.com and on Twitter at @govtechbrian.

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