Russellville upgrades radios for RPD, RFD

In its regular meeting Dec. 19, the Russellville City Council approved the purchase of and service contracts for digital portable radios in the amount of $45,175, to be paid out of the ARPA money.

The radios will be used by the police department, fire department and street department.

Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett explained the police department’s current system is analog and uses a repeater.

“The problem is when the state narrow-banded the frequencies, that made our system less powerful, and there are several places throughout town where you can’t hear what an officer is saying,” explained Hargett. “A lot of the agencies around us have already gone to these digital portable radios – the sheriff’s department being the latest.”

Hargett said the new technology works off cell phone towers; it doesn’t matter which company a tower belongs to, just as long as there’s a signal.

“We’ve been trying them out, and the only place it didn’t work off the cell phone signal was the storm shelter at the middle school,” Hargett added, “but the radios are Wifi capable, so we can connect to the wireless internet for the middle school.”

Hargett explained the expense of the radios is mostly the initial purchase, noting a monthly $20 per radio fee covers service and maintenance, including rapid replacement of lost or damaged units.

He said the new system has a number of other advantages, including GPS capabilities.

The digital radios have distress buttons that, when pressed, send out an alarm that identifies who has requested help. Each device has a unique identifier, and the distress alarm will identify the radio’s precise location, even within a building.

Hargett said with the analog radios, there can be issues with civilians with scanners getting on the frequencies talking, thus interfering with authorities conducting official business. The digital radios, on the other hand, have 100 percent encryption, meeting the federal government’s encryption standard.

“There is a way we can bridge them into our own radio system,” he added, “but the part that’s not beneficial is that if one goes down, then you don’t have any radio system. So, our plan is to use the new radios as our primaries and have our old system as backup.”

Hargett said there will be enough radios for the street department, as well, so everybody in the city will be on the same system.

“Another benefit,” he added, “is that it doesn’t matter if you’re in Florida, California or wherever, the radios will work if there’s cell phone service.”

He said there’s already widespread acceptance of the new system.

“A lot of our surrounding agencies are using these radios,” Hargett said. “The new system so outperforms what we have now, including making it so that we can communicate with other agencies: As long as those agencies allow us to have their frequency, then we can talk to them.”

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