ARLINGTON — The city will spend $10.8 million over the next decade to upgrade its outdated public radio system, allowing the police and fire departments to communicate with other city and county agencies without interruption during regional emergencies such as tornadoes.The state has set the goal that all first-responder agencies’ radio systems be interoperable, or able to communicate with one another, by Jan. 1, 2015. To help meet that goal, the Arlington City Council voted Sept. 3 to approve a 10-year lease with Motorola Solutions to buy digital radio equipment that will increase interoperability with other agencies in Tarrant and surrounding counties.The state goal isn’t the only thing driving Arlington’s conversion. The city will lose its backup radio system when Fort Worth’s analog system goes off line in December 2014, council member Sheri Capehart said.“We’ve kicked this can down the road far enough, and we are going to have to do something,” Capehart said before the contract was approved.Besides Fort Worth, many other North Texas cities are already converting their analog radio systems to digital as mandated. Arlington’s analog system, used by police, fire, public works and other city departments, is 28 years old, and parts for it are no longer made. “We’re kind of towards the tail end of the rest of the region having already moved in this direction. If we don’t move with them, we are going to be left only able to communicate to ourselves,” City Manager Trey Yelverton told council members. “From the public safety perspective, the radio system is the lifeline. It’s the communication tool in the field. It is something that needs to be done.”Another benefit of a digital system is that sensitive communication can be encrypted, while most of the current radio channels “can be heard at any time by anyone, which can put our public safety personnel at risk,” Fire Chief Don Crowson has said.Arlington has partnered with Grand Prairie and Mansfield, which also plan to upgrade their systems, to get a better lease deal on the equipment, Crowson said. Even though the conversion will begin this year, Arlington is not required to make its first payment until fiscal 2015, which starts Oct. 1, 2014.The city will pay about $1.3 million a year from one-time funds, such as its natural gas well revenue, and will pay about $1.4 million in interest on the equipment over the 10-year lease.Others pay to use Arlington’s radio system, including the University of Texas at Arlington police, the Mansfield school district police, Pantego and Tarrant County College Southeast Campus. This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock