Radio System Implementations: Getting the Job Done Right
Most public and private radio system implementation projects are complicated with many challenges, constraints and changing assumptions. To make the process a little less daunting, here are four suggestions for successfully upgrading or replacing your radio system.
1. Have a Clear Governance Structure: From the start of a project (radio or otherwise), it’s important to have a clear governance model so that policies can be established and properly monitored by the governing members of an organization. The governance structure needs to include the mechanisms required to balance the powers of the members and their associated accountability. In larger radio projects, interoperability is very important. A useful tool for improving emergency response communications and interoperability is the Department of Homeland Security’s SAFECOM Interoperability Continuum. Governance is one of the key elements of this continuum. As the continuum graphic suggests, developing a governance structure that includes all stakeholders and takes into account regional and statewide plans provides the highest degree of interoperability.
2. Understand your Radio System Coverage and Capacity Needs: The coverage and capacity of your radio system are the most essential components of system performance and the largest drivers of cost. While everyone wants their radios to work everywhere, perfect coverage is probably not a realistic goal for your organization. What’s important is to specify the coverage you need (and are willing to pay for!). Don’t rely on a 95% county-wide portable radio coverage requirement to ensure that you’ll have coverage throughout a small city that is less than 0.05% of the area of the county. Consider different coverage or testing requirements for urban and rural areas as your needs dictate, but keep in mind that stricter requirements usually result in higher costs.
Your radio system must also be designed to meet your organization’s capacity needs. That is, at a minimum, the system will need to support your existing users and leave room for future growth. The key is to understand how users will utilize the system and design the system accordingly. The more distinct groups of users (talkgroups or channels) you have, the more frequencies you will need. It would be great to have unlimited capacity but, ultimately, you will have to balance current and future needs with system costs.
3. Lock Down Sites (as soon as possible): Sites are an essential part of any radio system. After all, even if frequencies are available, radio coverage can be limited if poor radio sites are selected. If your existing sites don’t provide the coverage you desire, you’ll need to identify new sites; some organizations may prefer to construct radio towers on their own property to reduce operating costs, while others may prefer to lease sites from third parties to reduce capital requirements. Regardless of your approach, after every site is selected, work closely with the site owner and local government agencies to identify site conditions, planning and permitting requirements, environmental conditions and any other requirements necessary to acquire and/or construct the site.
4. Collaborate with and Manage your Vendors: At the beginning of any implementation project, you should make sure that contract language is clear and unambiguous, project priorities are identified, expectations are set and a win-win relationship is developed with the vendor. Continuously communicate and coordinate with the vendor, monitor and control the vendor’s performance and be proactive. While you want to ensure a collaborative working relationship with the vendor, don’t forget that the vendor’s project manager is responsible for the vendor’s bottom line and interests. You need to be an advocate for your organization and its interests; this will help ensure that you get the system you deserve and that the project remains within budget and on schedule.
Radio system upgrade/replacement projects can be a challenging undertaking, but when done successfully, can greatly improve operations and increase the safety of field personnel.
Looking for advice with a radio system implementation? DELTAWRX routinely guides public sector clients through this process. To learn more, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.