APCO Seminar: Maintaining Wireless Radios to Improve Public Safety Communications

Technology does not just affect phones and computers, it’s affecting radios. Get these pro wireless radio management strategies to improve your city's public safety communications.

At the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials’ (APCO’s) annual conference last year, the organization hosted a professional development session titled Utilization of Wireless Radio Management Technology to Maintain Inventory, Troubleshoot, and Update Radio Fleet. The seminar featured Aaron Miller, director of public safety communications and emergency management of Arlington County; Ross Bourgeois, administrator of the Real-Time Crime Center at the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Adam Brickeen, emergency preparedness and communications and information security administrator for New Orleans Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Until just a few years ago, first responders in New Orleans were still relying on radios left over from FEMA’s efforts post-Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When it came time to update a decade later, Miller and his team decided a wireless radio management system was the way to go. In this seminar, Miller, Bourgeois and Brickeen described the considerations that went into choosing a wireless radio management system and discussed the advantages they have noticed since implementing their wireless system.

4 Key Takeaways for Going Wireless

#1. When starting out, work with existing infrastructure.

New technology, new system -- right? Wrong, according to Miller. There’s no need to change what already works. Miller and his team used existing city Wi-Fi in fire stations, police stations and other municipal buildings to host the secure broadcast SSID that connects each radio to their network.

This allows radios to be updated on the fly by one person over the course of about ten hours -- instead of the thousands of man-hours it previously took using their old radio management system, Miller estimated.

#2. A wireless radio management system saves time.

Miller and his team determined that police officers, firefighters, EMS responders and other municipal employees were spending approximately 2,500 hours a year in visits to the radio shop for repairs, replacements and updates. What could they do to keep their city’s responders out of the troubleshooting line and on the move?

For Miller’s team, wireless was the answer. Responders in Wi-Fi-equipped patrol units, ambulances and other city vehicles can skip the shop and have their radios updated from the road.

We went from having 2,500 man hours a year spent with officers being out of service going to and from the radio shop, with 30 officers [going] per day, to three per week,” Bourgeois said.

He estimated the wireless radio management system helped them save 150 eight-hour police shifts that would otherwise have been spent off the streets and in the shop.

The wireless system has also come in handy during large events, such as Mardi Gras, which attracts thousands of visitors to New Orleans every year.

“During this year’s Mardi Gras festivities [we were] able to push event-specific talk groups down to folks who were working on the parade route,” Miller said. “So we were able to drive down the parade route and broadcast updates and have police officers and firefighters and paramedics receive those updates without coming out of the field.”

#3. No wires means your reach travels where your responders do.

Since installing a wireless radio management system, Miller and his team have noticed another important benefit: extended reach.

“[As far as] the ability to troubleshoot and address the issues the officers were facing, we were able to do that as long as they were underneath the umbrella of city Wi-Fi,” Bourgeois said. “Whether they were in a police car equipped with Wi-Fi or whether they were in a station or police headquarters, all they had to do was call up and say, ‘This is the issue we’re having,’ and the radio could be troubleshot over the air.”

Wireless has streamlined the way the city is able to stay connected to its employees, Miller explained.

“Within each ambulance, each fire apparatus, each police car, the amount of … connected technology is continuing to grow,” Miller said. “As a result of making the simple choice to use [a wireless radio management system] as the backbone of the device within those vehicles, what we’ve been able to do is extend the reach of the city network.”  

#4. Wireless means easy access to replacement radios.

It’s no surprise that installing updates over a wireless system is faster and easier, but what about those radios killed in action -- the ones run over during pursuits, lost in rivers or woods or just plain broken? After all, no amount of wireless magic can fix a ruined radio, right?

That’s true -- but wireless control of and access to radio storage lockers at police stations allows officers to replace radios as needed on the go.

These “radio vending machines”  combine fast service with a centralized location that make it easy for responders to replace faulty or broken radios.

Employees swipe their ID, which doubles as an access card, to unlock the storage locker.

“They remove a radio from the charger, close the door, that radio’s now signed out to them,” Bourgeois said. “We’ve got the ability to see how long that person has the radio, [and] if they have it more than 24, 48 hours, we can reach out.”

Learn more about APCO 2019 being held August 11-14, 2019, in Baltimore.

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