Rock County officials say emergency radio communications improving
JANESVILLE Radio communications for Rock County law enforcement and firefighters are not quite as good as they were in June, but they are better than in September and ready to meet federal mandates, Rock County Interim Communications Director Kathy Sukus says.
Rock County in June switched radio communications from analog to digital.
The change is part of a plan to meet a pending federal mandate for narrow band radio transmissions. The purpose of switching to digital transmissions was to avoid the addition of radio towers that would have been needed if the county made the narrow-band switch with analog radios, Sukus said.
The conversion has not gone as smoothly as anyone hoped, she said.
Software problems led to lockups at receiver sites, Sukus said. Some transmissions were cut off or failed to reach dispatch, officials have said. Some police and fire departments switched back to analog transmissions while vendors worked on the problems. Some were switching back and forth between analog and digital, Sukus said.
Since Sept. 28, all emergency and law enforcement agencies in the county have been using digital radios, Sukus said. Software issues have been fixed. Vendors worked with county engineers to make changes to the communication infrastructure.
"All the major software issues appear to have been resolved," Sukus said. "We are having no issues with lockups.
"We still are having occasional dropped calls and intermittent garbling of transmissions."
Communications are better than a few months ago, when firefighters were using cellphones rather than the digital radios, Milton Fire Chief Loren Lippincott said.
The digital system is working "absolutely" better than it had been, he said.
"We have not so many lost transmissions, not so many garbled transmissions," Lippincott said. "Once, recently, we had one (garbled transmission.) It was immediately corrected."
The Janesville Police Department was the last to switch back to consistent use of digital communications. The system is working better than it was in July and August, Deputy Chief John Olsen said.
"It's better," he said. "We're having officers still talking over each other, and we're having some volume issues. But, for the most part, we're able to communicate."
Olsen has heard of no instances of dropped communications in recent weeks that threatened officer safety, he said.
Once the issue of garbled transmissions is fixed, the county will focus on confirming radio coverage is as complete as it was with the analog system, Sukus said.
Although digital transmissions tend to be stronger, they lack some of the flexibility of analog transmission, retired Communications Director Dave Sleeter has said. He compared analog transmissions to the use of an AM or FM radio in the home or car. When you are on the edge of the geographic reach of a radio tower, you often can hear a soft or scratchy version of the transmission. The signal fades before transmission stops.
Digital transmissions, on the other hand, either work or don't, Sleeter said. They do not fade.
To assure the best digital coverage, engineers will fine tune the locations of the receivers and transmission tower antennae.
In many cases, repairs or changes to hardware or software have resulted in the discovery of additional problems, she said.
"It's slow going, but we're getting there," Sukus said. "We've continued to see progress throughout. It didn't go as quickly as we wanted. Sometimes those fixes revealed other problems.
"But we are moving forward and are ready to meet the federal mandate."