Nebraska Emergency Digital Radio System Works Through Issues

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July 25, 2014 - 6:30am

The digital emergency radio system is used by the Nebraska State Patrol, the Game and Parks Commission and other local law enforcement agencies.


It was implemented in 2012 and has many advantages over the outdated system patrol previously used, according to Col. David Sankey, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. He said troopers had no way of communicating with other agencies or local law enforcement in times of need with the old system.

“The old system was basically 1950s technology, analog radio system,” Col. Sankey said. “It had very limited capabilities and the new system is a digital high-tech radio system.”

This is why the system had to be updated, according to Sankey. The clarity of the new system is another way the digital system set itself apart from the old one, he said.

Colonel David Sankey has been with the Nebraska State Patrol since 1987. (Photo Courtesy Nebraska State Patrol)

 

There were issues with coverage areas dropping out. Two incidents, one in Alliance, Neb., in June 2012 involved a shootout at a drugstore where radio contact cut-out and officers had to revert to hand signals to communicate. The other instance was during wildfires later in the summer of 2012. When crews were encircled in fire and radio contact dropped out leaving them stranded. This warranted a formal complaint, filed by the State Troopers Association of Nebraska.

Brian Petersen, president of the State Troopers Association of Nebraska, said part of the issue was with ‘blank’ or ‘dead spots’, where signal faded. He also said there were issues with the vehicle repeater system. The system links the portable radio signal from an officer’s belt or hand to their mobile radio, in order to communicate with other officers or dispatchers.

“The portable radios on officers’ belt or hips would look for one or two particular cars, and when one of those cars left the scene, the radio didn’t know where to go to,” Petersen said.

State Sen. John Harms, who represents the 48th district including Scottsbluff, Nebraska, said there have always been issues with coverage areas in western Nebraska. But he said the three newly-built towers in York, Cheney and Benkelman will help in this fight.

“I don’t think you will ever have 100 percent coverage, but if you can get 95 or 96 percent coverage that is what we are after,” Sen Harms said.

Sen. Harms, who was a part of legislative meetings earlier this year, said another issue was counties who couldn’t afford to join the new system were buying their own equipment. He also said there were issues with the implementation, and launch of the statewide system.

“There really wasn’t enough adequate training,” Sen. Harms said. “This system that was implemented is pretty sophisticated. It is one where you have to learn how to use and use well.”

Petersen agreed with Sen. Harms.

“When the system was put into place it was installed into vehicles that officers utilized, and it was essentially ‘here is your radio system,’” Petersen said. “But it’s much more complex than that.”

Peterson also said officers didn’t have a common channel, or were unaware of which channels to use. Also, officers were not up to speed on the technical aspects of the digital system. Additional channels have been added, according to Peterson.

Sen. Harms also said changing the way the system was trained to officers has helped.

“They’ve made a lot of progress in terms of training,” Sen. Harms said. “One thing they’ve found is when you bring someone from the outside that is doing the training it can be intimidating. So they trained the trainers, where another law enforcement officer was training his colleagues, the officers felt a lot freer to ask questions.”

Col. Sankey said he thinks most of the issues have been solved and others are being worked out.

“As with any technology project that you implement, there is going to be a learning curve and there are going to be bumps in the road,” Col. Sankey said.

Sen. Harms said everyone has been on the same page from the beginning.

“I think everybody wants the same thing,” Sen. Harms said. “We want to make sure our law enforcement officers have the tools to protect the citizens of this great state as well as protect themselves. I feel comfortable that they are making progress with those issues.”

Petersen praised the work of state legislators, the Nebraska State Patrol and the Office of the Chief Information Officer.

“As a result of that, people in all sectors of government really went to work and for that we can truly be thankful,” Peterson said.

The complaint filed by the Troopers Association has been dropped, according to Petersen. Numerous attempts to reach the Office of the Chief Information Officer were unsuccessful.

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