The Helena area’s public safety radio network is set to receive an upgrade this spring.
The city of Helena has reached an interlocal agreement with the Montana Department of Justice to install new radio equipment at the Helena-Lewis and Clark County 911 Center. The Helena City Commission gave its approval to the agreement last week.
Helena Police Department Capt. Curt Stinson said the work is expected to begin around April. It is part of a statewide project aimed at updating Montana’s public safety radio infrastructure.
Stinson said the city installed new radio hardware when it moved into the 911 Center in 2012. He said the equipment works fine for now, but that they won’t be able to connect with the state’s new system unless it is upgraded.
The state will be responsible for installing the new equipment and will cover the costs. Last year, the Montana Legislature approved $3.75 million a year over the next ten years for the radio upgrades.
Stinson said the upgrades will be for all local agencies that use the radio system, including HPD, the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office, rural fire departments and St. Peter’s Ambulance. He said those responders shouldn’t see much change in their service.
“Functionally, the users of the system aren’t going to see any difference,” he said. “Day in and day out, the radios will work the same.”
However, he said the new system will ensure they can communicate with other agencies when they work together on large incidents. In the past, he said officers sometimes had to carry multiple radios in case they had to reach someone using a different system. These changes are aimed at addressing that.
“The idea is that as you travel to these different corners of the state, they’re all tied in together – all those agencies, all those areas within the state, all those emergency responders have a common set of resources,” said Stinson.
Stinson said the upgrades should also provide more radio capacity. He said, currently, they sometimes see first responders have trouble using their radios because there are too many other people using them.
Stinson said most HPD officers won’t have to change radios when the new system arrives. He said the department has been purchasing new radios over the last four years so they would be prepared for the transition.