Gone digital: Radio upgrade complete
Sayonara analog, hello digital.
The town’s public safety radio system will be transmitting digitally this month thanks to the completion of a multi-year overhaul that featured six construction sites around town — and out of it — that link communications for the police, fire, fire police, highway, emergency management, and parks and recreation departments.
The last piece of the puzzle — Moses Mountain tower, across the Danbury border — was finished in early June.
Now, incompatible radios at the scene of an emergency — including garbled transmissions and weak signals in many areas of town — are a thing of the past.
“Parks and Recreation and Highway are involved because during a major storm they’re clearing roads, plowing, taking care of wires,” said Acting Emergency Manager Dick Aarons who has been overseeing the $3.7-million radio system upgrade for the last half decade.
Aarons said that the Moses Mountain tower took the longest because of unexpected complications.
“It took us a whole year — or a little bit longer — to get permission to work on that tower,” he said.
“Once we got that permission, we finished our work in three weeks.”
But, even before Moses Tower was complete, Aarons said that a large part of the system had been up and running for months.
“Parks and recreation, the highway department, the office of emergency management and the fire police — they’re already using the new radios on the new digital system,” he said.
The two departments still communicating on the old-school analog system? Fire and police.
Aarons said that the new radios have been installed, but those departments have yet to make the switch to digital.
The plan is for both the cops and firefighters to be on the new system Tuesday, July 25.
Aarons said that, with the digital signal, emergency responders will be able to communicate from their portable radios from any home in Ridgefield.
The new system seems to be working even better than expected.
“Specially equipped police cars, driven by police officers, took engineers to all areas of the town and several areas in surrounding communities to check the performance,” said Aarons.
He said that the radios installed at headquarters and emergency vehicles have an easier time picking up the signal because of their large size, but that the extraordinary aspect of the project lies in the smaller radios.
“What we really care about are the radios that officers and fire carry on their belts,” he said.
“We have to be able to make those communications so that the people on either end hear the transmission loud and clear.”
Testing yielded positive results.
“The most exciting thing is we’re hearing back from the officers that they’re able to communicate now,” said Aarons.
“In every case, the performance met or exceeded our original expectations."