The new public radio system being tested this week will allow police, fire and other government entities to have wider coverage around the county and inside buildings.
"There are areas in Fayette County where the old system doesn't work very well, in particular inside buildings," said Lexington Fire Battalion Chief Paul See. "Whenever we have a building that's on fire, that's one of our main concerns. For our crews to have communications inside the building. The new system is designed for in-building coverage."
The new system also will allow police and fire officials to communicate directly with each other by radio, which they can't do now, said Urban County Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason. The current radio system requires the departments to relay messages through a dispatcher.
The federal government had mandated technological changes for the police system and many other communities have undergone a similar transition, Mason said. The current police radio system used older radios that could not meet new requirements. The move allows for more efficient use of the available radio frequencies.
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The new radio system came to public attention this week when officials asked farm and property owners to allow Lexington firefighters and police officers access to private property to test the radios.
"It is to allow us to test the system throughout Fayette County to ensure coverage is adequate," Mason said. For the police department, "The exact switch over will be determined as we proceed with the testing. But it will be this fall."
The new underlying structural system will cost $4,981,766; of which the Urban County Government paid $4,584,290. Blue Grass Airport paid the balance for its share of the project. Portable and mobile radios for the police department were purchased separately from a vendor for $2,491,078, using bonds, general funds and a grant, Mason said. The Urban County Division of Community Corrections will also switch over to the new system in the next six months. Those costs are yet to be determined, but will be relatively small, Mason said.
Each test takes only a few minutes. During the test, a firefighter or police officer will use radios to make contact with the dispatch center. They will make sure they are able to hear each other clearly. The testing should end by Aug. 28. Those doing the testing will be driving official government vehicles, will have government identification and will be in uniform.
While Lexington police and the airport will begin using the new system in the fall, the Lexington Fire Department will switch over to the new system in July 2014 at a cost of $1.6 million, said See.
"The main thing was the budget," See said. "It's a large investment. To spread it over multiple years I think was the main reason, rather than having that large chunk of money hitting the budget at one time."