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San Diego fire, police to get 7,000 new radios under $51M contract

Officials say the upgrades aim to improve voice quality, allow for more seamless communication among agencies, and enhance network security


San Diego Fire Rescue will be able to replace radios that are now considered obsolete.

Photo/San Diego Fire Rescue

David Hernandez
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — San Diego police and fire department radios that are now considered obsolete will be replaced under a $51 million contract the City Council approved Tuesday, city officials said.

The contact with Motorola Solutions Inc. will replace more than 7,000 radios that police officers, firefighters and dispatchers use to communicate with one another. The upgrades will improve voice quality, allow police and fire personnel to communicate more seamlessly with other agencies, and enhance network security, city officials said.

The City Council approved the contract without discussion as part of its consent agenda.

“This was something we had to get done,” Chief Information Officer Jonathan Behnke said in an interview after the council meeting.

The upgrades will mark the last step in a modernization project. Over the past three years, the city has made upgrades to its public safety radio communication infrastructure and mountaintop towers to transition from analog to digital technology.

City officials said there are two main issues with the current analog radios: There are limitations to network security, and while public safety personnel can use the existing equipment to communicate with other agencies that use digital radios, the process requires several steps to connect the frequencies on each end.

“It’s not a seamless operation like it should be,” Denise McAnally, deputy director of the city’s wireless technology services, said in an interview.

McAnally added that national public safety standards call for more efficient operations between agencies and tight security measures.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokeswoman Mónica Muñoz said the are two key benefits to the upgrades. She noted that the radios will meet national standards, and the new technology will improve safety because of GPS capabilities that pinpoint the location of firefighters using the radios.

San Diego police did not respond to questions about the new equipment. The Police Department is one of a few law enforcement agencies in San Diego County that do not encrypt their radio communications.

The upgrades will happen in two phases, city officials said. First, 5,000 hand-held radios and 35 dispatcher control stations will be upgraded in January at a cost of $28.5 million. A year later, about 2,500 vehicle-mounted radios will be replaced for $14 million. Another $8.5 million will be spent as needed for accessories, training, repairs and future upgrades, city staff said in a report to the City Council.

According to the report, the total price tag includes the costs of equipment, warranty and maintenance.

The city will use bond proceeds to pay for the upgrades under a financing plan the City Council approved in August.

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