State radio systems upgrade could cut regional dispatchers out of the loop

Posted July 29, 2012, at 8 p.m.

Regional dispatchers are worried they will be out of the communications loop after state public safety departments such as state police, warden and forestry services and marine patrol upgrade their radio communication systems from analog to digital.

The upgrade for the state departments, known as the MS Comnet project, carries a price tag of about $55 million, and when it is done will allow state public safety officials from Kittery to Madawaska to communicate via radio, according to Jim Ryan, executive director for Penobscot County Regional Communications.

But regional dispatch centers will need to upgrade to digital systems to hear the new transmissions.

And Ryan said when the state originally went out to sell the upgrade to legislators and community officials they proposed an analog system. In anticipation, Penobscot County purchased analog equipment to coordinate with the state, the state announced they were going digital, he said.

He said it would cost $500,000 for Penobscot County to acquire new equipment that would be compatible with the state system.

Knox County Regional Communications Center Director Linwood Lothrop also expressed similar concerns about the new state radio system and said it would make it more difficult for county dispatches to keep track of what is going on with state units.

Lt. Col. Raymond Bessette of the Maine State Police said the digital upgrade has been necessary for years to meet capacity needs for state emergency personnel.

The upgrade will allow many more radio frequencies that will serve emergency responders when they respond to escalating situations.

Bessette said the state asked the vendor for the radio upgrade to allow its county and municipal partners to hear the state radio communications and that will be done.

The public will also be able to follow the radio communications, although they will need to purchase digital scanners, he said.

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