Lacey said the change was initiated out of a federal mandate.
The Federal Communication Commission issued a mandate a little more than a year ago to convert all government radio systems to narrow-banded width by Jan. 1, 2013, he said.
That means that a wide range of radio signals must be compressed into a thinner bandwidth.
“That wouldn’t have worked here,” Lacey said, adding that the radio system used in Polk County was too antiquated for the change. “It would have been a struggle to make it work.”
Lacey said the alternative was to move to a moto turbo digitalized trunking system. He said it is similar to an 800 system because it is a trunking system, but operates like a 400 system.
Trunking is when a large number of users share a small number of communication paths. It can include both telephones and VHF radios used by emergency crews.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners approved the change last year.
Lacey said the move is costing the county approximately $600,000.
The immediate benefit is that emergency personnel can hear everyone else clearly no matter where they are in the county.
“With the new system, it has increased efficiency in our county communications,” Lacey said, adding that personnel can now communicate in the most rural areas of the county. Those wishing to hear emergency calls will now need both a digital scanner and the encryption code, he said. Only those approved as part of the emergency system are given encryption codes, Lacey said.
According to Polk County Information Technology Director Ryan Cleary, the new system offered the best bang for the county’s buck.
“With the budget we had, we had to be very frugal. This new system offers the ability to expand for at least 10 to 15 more years,” he
added. The new type of scanners are not available for purchase by the general public, Cleary said.
“We know there will be residents out there upset over not being able to hear scanner traffic, but this new system had to be installed for the safety of law officers and rescue workers and the public that they serve.”