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ARMER system improving emergency communication

Fri, Dec 7th, 2012
Posted in All Features

Emergency responders in Fillmore County have been making big changes to the way they communicate, and the end result should be something more efficient and easier to use.

By January 1, 2013, it will be mandatory that all emergency response teams be switched over to a narrow bandwidth. Fillmore County Sheriff Daryl Jensen explained that the state has designated a certain frequency to be for emergency response only, and that is between 700-900 megahertz.

ARMER (Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response) is a trunked public safety radio system, and the plan is to get everyone in Fillmore County using it. The switch is intended to improve the safety and security of citizens, as well as improve communication for emergency responders during disasters.

“It’s a benefit to Fillmore County residents, because MNDoT is putting up all of the infrastructure,” said Jensen.

ARMER towers have been up and running in Wykoff and Amherst, there are plans for one in LeRoy, and there is a tower being constructed in Harmony right now. These four locations will help ensure proper coverage throughout the county.

Although it’s not a requirement to use ARMER systems, it will fulfill the state requirement to be within the narrow bandwidth.

According to Jensen, communication will be much improved. “ARMER is a trunked bandwidth,” he said, “which means there is an incredible amount of additional capability.”

Jensen mentioned the Rushford flood in 2007, and how they had a difficult time communicating. He said they had one Fillmore County channel, and one Rushford Public Works channel.

“This system would have allowed for more communication,” said Jensen.

Jensen said the concept has been around for a long time, but after the September 11 disaster, people realized there were significant communication problems. There are several states that are going to the narrow bandwidth.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has provided the ARMER towers and equipment, but Fillmore County has spent around $750,000 on the transition. Jensen said that most of the money has come from grants, and the amount paid by taxpayers is very minimal.

There is no deadline for ambulance and fire departments to purchase the ARMER equipment, as it is very costly. Jensen explained they are giving them time to raise the money through grants and fundraisers.

The Fillmore County Sheriff’s Department is putting in an ARMER dispatch center. Jensen explained there would be gateways that will allow them to communicate with radios that are still using the VHF frequency.

“This has been a huge undertaking for all of us,” he said.

They are working on connectivity issues as well, as they have installed an 80-foot tower to have an improved link to ARMER, and have had to work on tying their dispatch to the ARMER system as well. Jensen explained the tower was paid for by grants and from the 911 funds. On everyone’s phone bill there is a small charge that goes toward Minnesota 911 funds, and that money has been very important for emergency response. Jensen said the CodeRED program was paid for with money from the 911 funds.

Despite the hard work and money put into the transition, Jensen feels this will be a positive change for the county.

“They have put up about four million dollars in towers,” said Jensen of MNDoT. “We are piggybacking on what they’re doing. It’s possible that VHF might go away one day, so this is the direction we are taking.”

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