Tampa Area Gears Up for Republican National Convention
Wednesday, June 06, 2012 | Comments
Tampa Convention Center
Photo courtesy Robert La Follette
Two separate 800 MHz public-safety communications systems — one from Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications and one from Motorola Solutions — will be used to coordinate communications during the Republican National Convention in August.
The 2012 Republican National Convention will host 2,286 delegates and 2,125 alternate delegates from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five territories in addition to about 15,000 credentialed media. The event will be held Aug. 27 – 30 in Tampa, Fla.
The convention is designated as a Secret Service event. The agency established 26 subcommittees to handle the event aspects. The Interagency Communications subcommittee was created to develop the communications plans and is tasked with determining the communications requirements for each of the other 25 subcommittees.
“Overall we’re trying to understand the communications complexity, which will be key to the event,” said Subcommittee Co-Chair Pam Montanari. “We must make sure that everything is integrated well because there’s a multitude of systems and technology everyone wants to use.”
Montanari is the radio and data systems manager for Pinellas County (Fla.) Public-Safety Services. She is one of five co-chairs on the convention’s Interagency Communications subcommittee.
Within the committee, Montanari’s specific focus is agencies in Pinellas county, and federal and state agencies operating on the systems. Federal agencies will operate on their own frequencies, unless working within an operational group that is facilitated by local police. “If we have a federal user operating as a field force they would be operating on one of the local systems,” she said.
System Logistics
For the past six years the Tampa Bay region has slowing been upgrading and migrating the local analog systems to Project 25 (P25) technology via Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grants. As part of the overall UASI grant funding, the P25 portions of the systems have common talk groups for interoperability. “It’s a slow process,” Montanari said. “Some years we only get $2 million each; it takes quite some time to complete the upgrades but we’re continuing along that process.”
The Hillsborough County and the Pinellas County radio systems are both 800 MHz trunked P25 systems, and will be the two systems used during the convention. Hillsborough operates a Harris EDACS P25 system, and Pinellas County operates a Motorola SmartZone P25 system. Some of the event equipment will be set to operate on one of the systems, and other equipment will be programmed to operate on both systems. Additionally the subcommittee is adding components to support federal agencies in the VHF band, Montanari said.
The systems are currently used for day-to-day operations and both offer redundant capabilities. Combined the systems have more than 14,000 users, however, not all the users operate on the systems at the same time. On average they have about 5,000 users operating on the systems. An estimated 1,500 additional users will operate on the systems during the convention. Specific talk groups will handle the added users.
In addition to both counties completing flash upgrades and reprogramming their equipment to add P25 regional talk groups for interoperability, the Tampa Police purchased about 2,000 P25 radios for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department.
“The field force operations requires a significant number of law enforcement personnel, most from outside of the Tampa Bay area,” Montanari said. “So to accommodate them and not have to program each different type of radio they bring in, we determined it would be better to purchase the radios that can be used by the local agencies after the event, rather than reprograming the 2,000 radios that would be coming.”
After the convention the purchased radios will remain with the county. “They’ll stay as local dollars to leave behind for their P25 system,” Montanari said.
The region had enough capacity in place that it didn’t need to request RNC funding to specifically upgrade the systems. A majority of the money allocated to the project went to support field operations and logistics.
On the Pinellas side, radio programmers are reprogramming about 300 radios a week to meet the end of June deadline. “Currently we’re on track. We have to make sure we keep programming the required number of radios per week,” she said. “There is some flexibility in the timeline. But because of complexity, we want to allow more than enough time for programming, testing and training. Those will be critical to the success of the communications of the event.”
At press time Montanari said they had completed most of the local communications requests but were still working with some of the state and federal requests. Once all the requests are met, the plan must be reviewed and then implemented. “Communications is critical so everyone is working in parallel, and then in the next month, we have to converge everything and make sure we have backup for everything and they all work together,” Montanari said.
In July the subcommittee hopes to start training personnel on the talk group usage, equipment and technology, as well as hammer out governance issues. “You could have all the technology in the world, but if you don’t have the governance in place it doesn’t matter,” she said.
“You could literally work 24 hours all the time just making sure that everything falls into place,” Montanari said. “But we’re not doing that quite yet.” 
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