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[May 18, 2014]
Police make radio switch to secure frequencies [The Brownsville Herald, Texas :: ]
(Brownsville Herald (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 18--In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York City, first responders realized they had a huge problem that inhibited first responders -- communication.
"They determined one of the biggest obstacles for communications was that everybody had a different radio," Brownsville Police Department Lt. Raul Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez supervises the Brownsville Police Department's dispatch center, which recently converted to a digital frequency from an analogue frequency to come into compliance with a post-9/11 federal mandate. The mandate required that all public safety agencies operate on a digital frequency so that it can communicate on the same frequency with other agencies in Cameron and Hidalgo counties.
"It's actually been about a two-year long trip that we've been planning on moving to digital," Rodriguez said from the dispatch center. "When Cameron County told us they were going to go digital and abandon their analogue site at some point, that prompted us to move a little quicker into digital." The upgrade cost about $6.2 million, and half was paid for with grants and the other half was paid for with a certificate of obligation of a little more than $3 million.
This is the police department's first upgrade in its communication division since 1997.
"Since then, most of the communication center and radio technology have not been touched. We were still working on 1997 technology," Rodriguez said.
The dispatch center was also upgraded with dispatchers having monitors mounted in front of their desks. The room now has an open ceiling, allowing for more freedom with wiring. And now, dispatchers can choose to sit or stand with desks that can be moved up and down.
"There's two benefits to this. One, it allows the dispatcher to stand up and not be sitting down all eight hours. And the other thing is it allows us to accommodate for ADA (American Disabilities Act) issues a lot better," Rodriguez said.
When the old analog scanners went silent in early May, picking up new police radio traffic was no longer possible.
"We have a proliferation of cellphone apps, where anyone can download an app and see fire traffic, EMS traffic -- and this poses a hazard not only to first responders, but it poses a privacy issues to citizens," Rodriguez said, explaining that sensitive medical information is often transmitted over radio traffic.
"In a tactical situation, we give the bad guys an upper hand. Again, it's so common now with the phone apps and the scanner apps that the bad guys are listening to every single piece of information," Rodriguez said.
The Brownsville Police Department is now using advanced encryption standards in all of its police cars and all of its radios, including 140 brand-new radios. The fire department and EMS are also encrypted.
"The attempt is not to keep the good people from listening to it. The intent is to keep the bad people from listening to our traffic," Rodriguez said.
However, the fire department and EMS cannot hear normal police department traffic and police can't hear fire department and EMS traffic.
"They can communicate on local talk groups, channels, that are designated for intra-city communications in the event such communication is needed," Rodriguez said.
All of Brownsville's departments are in the process of transitioning, and several departments are near completion.
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