Sooke emergency crews to get new radio system

New technology uses digital signal instead of analog

Sooke emergency crews are getting an upgrade to their radio communications system.

The new system, operated by Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications (CREST), will use digital technology, as opposed to the analog signal they use now.

“It will allow for remarkably better audio quality, and more channels,” said Gord Horth, general manager for CREST, adding the technology emergency crews are using now is around 15 years old, so it was time for an upgrade.

“At the end of the day, the new system will just be more reliable. Having more channels available means there will be less congestion. So in the case of an event or accident where everyone is using the same channel, this will give crews other channel options and clear things up a lot more.”

Another effect of the change to the digital signal in a dedicated bandwidth is that the signals will be encrypted, making the outside monitoring of emergency channels far more difficult.

“In today’s world, we have to be aware of privacy concerns. When emergency crews are responding and giving out names and medical conditions it’s important that we try to aware of peoples privacy needs and the ability of anyone with a scanner to pick up that information under our current system,” noted Horth.

CREST is also looking to extend it’s coverage by building new transmission sites, which are like cell-phone towers, throughout Greater Victoria.

“Right now we have about 10, and we are looking to have around 31 sites,” said Horth.

The Sooke area has four transmission sites, and Horth said they are hoping to double that amount, as well as extend their coverage further in the direction of Port Renfrew.

Horth said new sites can be difficult to get, because they involve a lot of community consultation, and must be connected to a power site.

Sooke emergency crews aren’t expected to be hooked up to the digital signal until 2019, but they got new radios in the meantime. The radios can be used on both the old analog signal and the new digital signal.

“We recommended that all the crews in Greater Victoria get the new radios now so they can get used to them, and then the transition to the digital system will be very smooth,” explained Horth.

RELATED: Motorola lands $13.1-million CREST contract

Sooke Fire Chief Kenn Mount said he is looking forward to the new system, and added that the new radios have much clearer audio than the previous radios.

“We are just trying to stay current with modern technology, and take advantage of its benefits,” said Mount.

His only concern with switching over to the new system next year is that the digital signal might not be as effective as analog inside buildings.

“It depends on the area though, and we will go through a lot of testing when the time comes to make sure there aren’t any issues,” said Mount.

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