Georgia Agencies Use NXDN Technology for Public-Safety Communications
Wednesday, April 03, 2013 | Comments

By Michelle Zilis, Managing Editor

Four years ago, the McDuffie County (Ga.) Sheriff’s Office selected a digital Kenwood Communications NXDN radio system to replace a three-site voter conventional analog system. Since then, the technology has spread to several of the area’s public-safety entities.

“I went from utilizing a three-site voter system to a single-site digital system so it was a big increase in coverage and clarity,” said Tracy Neal, communications director for McDuffie County Sheriff’s Office.

The system increased coverage in areas where it had previously been difficult to operate a handheld. In addition, Neal said the security, as well as the price and feature set, were all determining factors.

“One of the biggest reasons we got rid of the voting system was the costs of the control circuits and other costs to manage the system, as well as the reliability issues of the control circuits if we had a storm or rain, because we’d often have problems on the circuit and lose a site. But we did away with that and used the money that we were pouring into monthly control circuit fees into putting in the digital system,” he said.

The digital transition is ongoing. The office recently implemented AVL software in all patrol cars using NXDN. “It’s a big help to see where units are at any given time for officer safety and response efficiency,” Neal said. McDuffie County is 259.8 square miles and has a population of 28,200.

And while the county sheriff’s office and Thomson Police Department are fully digital, other county agencies are operating NXDN analog systems. “We’re trying to steer all of our service agencies in the fully digital direction,” Neal said. Neal oversees the sheriff and public-safety communications for the county as well as the 9-1-1 center. The department also supplies dispatch for a county adjacent to McDuffie that is fully digital with NXDN.

“I’m trying to get all our agencies to standardize on NXDN,” he said. “We also still maintain an analog platform right along side it for interoperability purposes for some of the state agencies that are on VHF analog.”

The department has the analog capability in patrol cars, portables and in the dispatch consoles. “We have an analog repeater that everybody had before switching to NXDN, so we took that channel and left it analog and brought up a secondary channel that became our primary,” he said. “We just flip flopped them so we wouldn’t have to reprogram a new analog channel because we already had one we were using.”

When Neal began researching digital technologies for the the sheriff's office, he considered Motorola Solutions’ MOTOTRBO because a larger surrounding county operates a Motorola trunked system. However, McDuffie County was already operating Kenwood products on its conventional analog system so the transition to NXDN required the department to upgrade only several repeaters, rather than having to buy all new equipment, he said. This allowed the county to transition at its own pace. “We ran some with mixed so we could transition to the digital system a little bit at a time,” he said.

But some people in the industry say that Project 25 (P25) should be the only technology used by public safety. "The only digital standard for public safety is P25 and most Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants for digital radios mandated P25," said John Johnson, public-safety radio communications specialist. "Public safety and manufacturers have spent a lot of time and dollars developing the P25 standard. So why are vendors pushing other digital technologies other than P25? Bottom line is cost and proprietary technologies locking a customer into one vendor. If the manufacturers would sell the P25 technology for the same cost or less, P25 would be in usage in more departments."

To avoid interoperability issues with surrounding jurisdictions, the county that operates the Motorola trunked system put one of the NXDN control stations in its dispatch center, which bridges the trunked systems. The nearby county also bought an NXDN mobile for its dispatch center.

“We were the first sheriff’s office in Georgia to go NXDN, and since it kind of spread like wildfire,” he said. There are now digital NXDN systems in use by the fire and police of Grovetown (Ga.) and the Tattnall County (Ga.) 9-1-1 Office.

"NXDN, like all digital LMR technologies employed by public-safety agencies, can provide better audio quality and coverage," said Steve Macke, principal consultant at Advent. "The selection process is often times swayed by total cost of ownership, especially for rural counties. The most important aspect of the new digital technology deployments is how well it is designed to meet the customer's needs and is deployed using best practices. Because the policeman or fireman has to rely on that wireless link when he needs it the most."

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