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Communications Go Digital

Have you noticed there’s much less emergency services traffic on scanners recently?

That’s because emergency services agencies in Logan County have completed or are in the midst of a switch to digital radios. Digital signals can’t be picked up by analog scanners, according to Donny Fairbanks, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Services.

“But that wasn’t the reason we got them,” Fairbanks said. “In 2012, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) mandated that all radios had to switch to narrow band transmission. When we did that, we lost a lot of coverage. The only way we could get it back was to go digital.”

And, it may be a while before you can buy a scanner that will pick up a digital signal.

“Right now, there are no commercially available digital scanners and they’re not making them,” Fairbanks said. “I’m sure they’ll be available in the future.”

The Logan County Emergency Medical Service got digital radios a year ago. Logan County Volunteer Fire Departments made the switch next. The Logan County Sheriff’s Department completed the switch a month ago. The Paris Police Department will complete the switch in the next couple of weeks, Fairbanks said.

The radios are expensive, about twice the cost of a normal radio, Fairbanks said. One hand-held digital radio costs $1,050 while a mobile radio, like one’s installed in vehicles, runs $950.

Funds to purchase the radios come from a federal grant. The $491,000 grant was awarded in 2013.

Fairbanks said the digital radios have some advantages over analog radios.

“The transmissions are much clearer,” he said. “The coverage is much better. It gives us the ability to operate radios that can be heard by other counties and agencies. Since 9-11, it became important that public safety organizations communicate with each other during an emergency situation. That interoperability, clear communication with each other, is crucial in an emergency situation.

“The agencies that have them, really like them,” Fairbanks said.

But, on the other hand, they severely hamper what had become a big past time in Logan County — listening to the scanner.

“We haven’t heard a word of complaint from the public,” Fairbanks said. “We were told we’d be getting complaints for about 30 days and we haven’t had any.”

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