ARMER goes live in Nobles CountyWORTHINGTON — Nobles County residents who monitor police and fire department activity over scanners may have noticed a difference in the radio traffic lately — a whole lot of testing, then silence.
WORTHINGTON — Nobles County residents who monitor police and fire department activity over scanners may have noticed a difference in the radio traffic lately — a whole lot of testing, then silence. Thursday, the county went live with the ARMER system, which uses higher frequencies than the old scanners were using.
“The scanners that could hear our old system will not be able to pick up the new one because of the change in frequencies,” Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening explained.
ARMER (Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response) is an 800 megahertz trunked public radio system developed to improve communication between emergency services.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) owns, builds and operates ARMER’s backbone, which is a network of radio towers, equipment shelters and radio transmission equipment.
It is used by MnDOT, the Minnesota State Patrol and other state emergency agencies.
After a series of small problems, Nobles County went live with the system, and according to Wilkening, the transition went smoothly.
“We will have in-building coverage issues and weak spots in Worthington until the tower is constructed, and that will enhance the system in the city,” Wilkening said. “I was in the Twin Cities when they went live, and with a portable radio was able to talk to dispatch. That was not possible before.”
It was anticipated the county would go live with ARMER earlier this year, but there were equipment issues on the manufacturer’s end.
With so many counties going live with the system in a relatively short period of time, the companies that build the equipment and towers are hard-pressed to keep up with the demand.
Wilkening said the system is a good one, and once the end-users have dealt with the learning curve of using new equipment, both day-to-day and large scale operation should work well.
With the old radio system, users frequently talked over each other, but with ARMER, entities are assigned talk groups.
It will take some getting used to, Wilkening said, but the end result will be worth it.
Once the tower is constructed, the paging system will be upgraded to include simulcast paging.
Hopefully, that will occur in September or October, Wilkening said.
“An agreement with the DOT allows us to put paging equipment on all of the towers,” he explained. “Once that is done, for example, an Ellsworth firefighter should be able to hear his pages even if he is in Worthington.”
Simulcast paging means dispatchers will be able to notify several entities at once, instead of sending out separate pages.
In Rock County, Sheriff Evan Verbrugge said they are hoping to go live with ARMER by Oct. 1.
A tower being built in Beaver Creek should be finished by mid-August.
Their call volume is smaller, he said, so they didn’t go all out with the “fancy” version that Nobles County had, which will cause a bit of extra work for their dispatchers.
Unlike many counties or entities across Minnesota, Rock County did not receive any grants for equipment.
“We tried to be fiscally responsible, getting a system that would be compliant without blowing the budget,” he stated.
They did not receive grants, he said, because the state said their county was not “shovel ready” at the time they applied.
“The dispatchers will have to do some patching, but the end-users won’t notice a difference,” he said.
Pipestone County received a grant for equipment, Sheriff Dan Delaney said, but they will not be ready to go live until the first part of 2013, after the build-out of towers is completed.
Construction began on one tower last week, but land acquisition was still being worked out for a tower on the north side of the county.
“We have all of our user equipment — dispatch consoles and radios — and all of the other agencies are equipped,” Delaney said.
The county has to build a receiving tower north of Pipestone, but until the other towers are completed, they don’t know how high the tower has to be to achieve line of sight.
The ARMER system will also give Pipestone County dispatchers a bit more work to do, but Delaney is confident his people are up to the task.
He was first told about the new system back in 2002 at his very first sheriff conference, and it was projected then that the system would be completed in 2006.
It wasn’t until 2008 that the legislature appropriated money to get it done.
“It will be quite a relief to see it operational,” he admitted.
There is already talk of a data stream in the future that will allow firefighters to get text messages on cell phones regarding fire and rescue calls.
“It will affect fire departments and ambulances,” Delaney explained. “That’s the future.”
Murray and Cottonwood counties have already gone live with ARMER. Jackson County has a projected live date of Sept. 30.