March 19, 2019
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Maine launches $57.4 million state-of-the-art radio network

BANGOR, Maine — For the first time ever, state agency radio users across jurisdictions and departments can communicate over a single, statewide emergency radio network as the result of a $57.4 million project was successfully launched last month.

The new system, called the Maine State Communications Network, or MSCommNet, replaces obsolete infrastructure installed in the early 1970s, according to officials from the state Office of Information Technology, which is heading up the project.

Members of the project team say MSCommNet, which was designed in large part to address radio “dead spots” around the state, features 40 repeater towers, including seven solar-powered sites, strategically placed throughout the state, a map on the project’s state website shows.

The new system, which went live Feb. 6, provides statewide communication capability for more than 2,000 users, ranging from state police, forest rangers and game wardens to correctional officers and marine patrol personnel, among other state agencies, according to officials.

MSCommNet also allows state agencies to communicate with all county and local public safety agencies. The state chose Harris Corporation as its vendor for the new system.

David Heidrich, spokesman for the Department of Administration and Finance, said Monday that all the state’s originally intended users have been brought on board and that the Department of Transportation will be added later.

“It was an incredibly smooth rollout, all things considered,” Heidrich said.

“All the feedback I’ve heard has been incredibly positive,” he said, adding that interim Finance Commissioner Richard Rosen recently was at the state’s new consolidated services at 66 Industrial Drive in Augusta, where a radio room is located.

“He talked to a warden out in the middle of the woods in Aroostook County as clear as day right here from Augusta,” Heinrich said.

“One of the biggest things we’ve heard [about MSCommNet] is the clarity that this system provides, being a digital system,” he said.

“We no longer have the static or the interruption. It’s really aimed toward making it so that an individual doesn’t have to pick up on the phone and call in order to get the message through, that they can use the portable that is on them or in their vehicles,” he said. “They can reach who they need when they need to.

Tom Driscoll, an outreach coordinator for the state information technology office who has been involved with the project for several years, said Tuesday that MSCommNet was funded primarily by the Maine Legislature but that is also received some federal grant funding through the Department of Public Safety and the Maine Emergency Management Agency. A cost breakdown was not immediately available.

The MEMA grant funds were used for parts of the system that enable state agencies to talk with their county and local counterparts.

Driscoll said the state also entered into a site sharing agreement with the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection for 27 of its 40 tower sites, which resulted in a significant savings and a reduced footprint on mountaintops.

Maine’s collaboration with CBP also improved geographical coverage statewide, especially in remote parts of Maine where wardens, forest rangers and others need radio communications, he said.

The major part of a “site” is the civil infrastructure — the radio tower, equipment shelter and power source, Driscoll said.

“Once built, the site infrastructure can accommodate many radios. So at any one site, there is now one tower and building, with many radios for both Maine and CBP systems,” he said.

Driscoll said scanner enthusiasts can still monitor radio traffic with both digital and analog scanners.

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