BROOKSVILLE — Illustrating the need for a new emergency radio system was as simple as putting the televisions and cell phones of 15 years ago side by side with the ones of today.
County commissioners this week got their first look at plans in the works for a five-year, $16 million radio upgrade to serve as the conduit of Hernando County's law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services and numerous other county public service outlets.
The "next generation of radio system'' is a system called Project 25, Sheriff's Office bureau chief Bill Kicklighter told commissioners. The system's most important feature is that as it becomes the standard for agencies across the state, it allows smoother communications.
That means if an emergency happens in another county and Hernando officials go to help, they will be able to use their radios to communicate with the other agencies.
Funding for the radio will be sought through a variety of public safety organizations and governmental grants, Kicklighter said.
He acknowledged that it was difficult to talk about such a major capital expense at a time when tax revenues are down and budgets are tight but he said such a purchase has to be planned ahead and done over time.
Since the existing system is already showing some failures and will show more over time, "We'd be remiss if we didn't come forward.''
County Administrator David Hamilton told commissioners that such projects will be brought forward later this year as the commission considers its capital project budget for 2011.
Kicklighter told some of the history of the county's radio network beginning with the first 800 megahertz unshared radio system established in 1985. He spoke about the various components of the current system and how some elements have gotten so old that repairs and replacements have become challenging.
"Our radio system is outdated,'' he said.
The benefit of the system under consideration is that replacement of pieces of the system can happen one step at a time. "Project 25 allows us to begin piecing in the new stuff'' rather than replacing everything at once, Kicklighter said.
Hernando has been talking with officials in Pasco, Citrus and Sumter counties about a regional upgrade and Project 25 radios are already being put in place in Citrus County.
In addition to better communication between agencies, the system also allows various enhanced and expanded services including a larger bandwidth for transmitting photos and reports, text messaging capabilities and encryption of radio transmissions for operations that agencies don't want broadcast to the public, he explained.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.