Smooth sailing for switch to digital
That the historical moment was anything but exciting can be considered good news for public safety.
Just after 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, officials flipped the switch to digital from analog for all law enforcement and fire radio voice communications in the county.
"It's a landmark day for public communications," said communications center Director Dave Sleeter.
Before and after the switch, Sleeter walked the floor of the county's communications center on County F near Highway 14.
Sleeter listened in while the six dispatchers on duty called the rolls in their designated areas. One by one, firefighters radioed back from stations. Deputies checked in from squad cars.
"Loud and clear," was more often than not the response.
In individual cases, the dispatchers sounded garbled to police officers. Sleeter advised battery changes in portable radios. The small fixes worked.
The county has been planning for the change for four years, Sleeter said. That included researching digital communications, writing grants and installing equipment, he said.
The change to digital radios is a voluntary response to a federal mandate to narrow-band communications. The federal government has ordered some radio licensees to reduce their bandwidth, which is the slice of the radio wave spectrum each licensee uses to broadcast.
Less bandwidth can mean quieter transmissions or smaller coverage areas, Sleeter said. He advocated for, and county officials agreed, to change to digital equipment to make up for the loss of bandwidth.
The county tested the new system earlier this month.
Individuals can continue listening to local emergency voice traffic, but they must buy digital scanners or radios to do so.