Keith Lewis, CREST educator (left), Gord Horst, CREST general manager, Al Marston, project operations manager at CREST and Sgt. Julie Fast with the Saanich Police Department show off their new radios, which are synced to the digital P25 system. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

First responders using upgraded radio transmissions call it ‘night and day’

Agencies across the CRD are switching to a new digital system from CREST

At the Saanich Police Department Al Marston toggled two hand-held radios in his hands. Marston is the project and operations manager for the Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications Inc. (CREST), the Capital Region’s emergency communications coordinator.

Marston tested out the older network on his radio by calling out to CFB Esquimalt fire department; The older system is an analogue-digital combination that was installed across 10 transmission sites in 2003. The response was understandable but garbled, coated in a thick layer of static.

Next, Marston tried out the same call using the newly operational P25 system, an entirely digital format that is rolling out across the Capital Region by using 33 transmission stations. The response, while still clearly on the radio, was clear with significantly less static.

The upgraded system also offers better coverage, something that emergency responders were struggling with on the old system.

“There were actually areas in our police department that you couldn’t transmit from,” said Sgt. Julie Fast, public information officer for the Saanich Police Department. “There’s also a huge improvement on clarity, which is really important, because when you’re out there and you hear someone transmit, you want to hear it right the first time.”

ALSO READ: Greater Victoria’s new $13 million E-Comm 9-1-1 call centre up and running

Fast added that officers were also having troubles with “bonking,” or the inability to connect to dispatch.

“The radio is the single most important thing we carry because that’s our connection to everybody else out there,” Fast said. “It’s really night and day.”

So far the Victoria, Oak Bay and Saanich Police Departments have transitioned to the P25 system as part of a regional $24.5 million upgrade. Departments using the system will see their dispatch come from the new E-Comm South Island 9-1-1/ Police Dispatch Centre in Saanich.

ALSO READ: Emergency dispatch channels to be encrypted by 2020

CREST is finishing up tests on transmission sites in the Saanich Peninsula before those agencies transition to using the P25 system, and departments in the West Shore will also join on by the end of 2019. The new system will take over entirely in early 2020. In total, 50 agencies across the CRD will be using the system.

The digital system will also offer more security; starting in 2020 the emergency dispatch channels will be encrypted, meaning the public will not have access to dispatch communications via scanners.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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