Mar 28 2016

Arkansas to Upgrade Its Public Safety Wireless Network

A state official says that new hardware and software for first responders will improve reliability and save money.

Arkansas plans to enhance its public safety communications network, which it hopes will give first responders more reliable service, let the state deploy advanced technologies in the future and save money. The state is upgrading the network’s hardware and software, which it plans to complete in a year.

Earlier this month, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he asked the state legislature to release $10 million from his “rainy day fund” to upgrade the emergency and public safety services, called the Arkansas Wireless Information Network (AWIN). Those funds have been allocated, Statewide Interoperable Communications Coordinator Penny Rubow told StateTech. The funding request was approved in a meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Council on March 18, according to Janet Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Information Systems (DIS).

AWIN is made up of more than 100 tower sites throughout the state, and the system is continuously monitored so that it can be accessed by the nearly 30,000 radios authorized to use it, according to the governor’s news release. AWIN, which is part of the Arkansas DIS, gives “thousands of law enforcement, fire, first responders and other emergency services at the city, county, state and federal levels, the ability to coordinate communications with other agencies and jurisdictions.”

The goal of the upgrade project will be to replace aging communications gear at tower sites across the state and update the network’s operating system to a virtualized environment, Rubow says.

Enhancing Hardware and Software

The state’s public-safety network has been in need of an update, according to Arkansas officials. “AWIN has proven invaluable during the aftermath of disasters such as the Vilonia tornadoes and the flash flood tragedy at the Albert Pike Recreational Area by giving law enforcement, fire, rescue and medical teams the ability to communicate when local services had been wiped out and cell phones would not work,” Hutchinson said in the release. “It is our obligation as a state to adequately invest in this system so that, when the call for help comes in, the response can be swift and effective.”

Rubow says that AWIN is an Astro P25 system, a two-way digital radio system designed by Motorola Solutions. P25 refers to Project 25, a set of digital radio communications standards designed for law enforcement agencies and first responders.

The upgrade will take place in three stages, Rubow said. First, the state will replace 372 base station repeaters that have reached “end of life” for parts replacement and maintenance. Then the state will swap out 16 end-of-life consoles. Finally the core operating system will be upgraded.

The old cellular base station equipment will be replaced with “next-generation Motorola base stations that provide for improved performance, greater power efficiency and compatibility with future systems,” Rubow says.

The replacement consoles are Motorola MCC 7500 units used by dispatchers, according to Rubow, which she says “provide for an enhanced [graphical user interface], increased functionality for emergency calls and alarms, and improvements in the interface for connecting to third-party consoles.”

Meanwhile, the network’s core operating system will be upgraded to the latest release of the Astro 25 platform, which Rubow says “will reduce the footprint of the core components, decrease power consumption and provide for enhanced remote monitoring of the system.”

She says that because the upgraded and replacement parts need to be integrated with the remaining system components, the state determined that having Motorola perform the work “will make the most economic sense.”

The state will designate a project manager to work with the Motorola project, according to Rubow. The upgrade will occur in phases, beginning with the replacement of the consoles at 10 dispatch locations. After that, the state will take over console replacement at the 372 base stations at 21 remote sites. Finally, the state will perform the software upgrade.

The Benefits of the Upgrade

Rubow says that operating system upgrade involves both hardware and software. Like many wireless carriers, the state wants to combine hardware and software resources into a software-based system.

She adds that “moving to a virtual platform, this upgrade will shrink the footprint of the core components as well as decrease power consumption.”

In the future, Rubow says, this upgrade will “position the state to take advantage of automatic fail over between the core components, increased roaming between AWIN and other standards based systems, and text messaging from dispatch to user radios.”

By improving the AWIN’s reliability and decreasing its power consumption, Rubow says the state can cut its operating expenses.