Tassie emergency services eye new radio network

Critical services unified under state-wide anti-terror network.

Tasmania's emergency services departments will get a standards-based radio network to coordinate its nine essential services, including police, fire and ambulance in the event of a terrorist attack.

The new digital radio network will be operational by 2012 and replace an array of siloed communications systems currently shared between the emergency services departments, state electricity operators, and the Parks and Wildlife agency.

Police and Emergency Management project director Emsada Babic said the platform will replace vulnerable analogue networks and improve responsiveness to national security threats.

"The project is driven by counter-terrorism and the need for interoperability between agencies and emergency services for issues that affect the whole state and require a coordinated government response," Babic said.

The state-wide network has been estimated to cost $25 million, although the government will not confirm that figure until the project has gone to tender.

It will use a mix of standards-based technologies and will be designed to the APCO 25 radio communications standard.

Open standards will reduce capital and operational expenditure and improve maintenance and uptime, according to Police Association president Sergeant Randolph Wierenga.

"The idea is to make it more robust and make it run easier and cheaper," Wierenga said. "If a handset breaks, we can just go to the shops and get whatever replacement is available instead of being at the mercy of proprietary equipment."

Open standards will be a welcome change for the Tasmanian police service, which undertook legal proceedings to take ownership of the existing radio network from previous owner Ericsson.

The disputes arose after the digital network failed and police were forced to use insecure analogue radio. The vendor sued because it claimed the police were taking up more network resources than was agreed to in the contract.

Babic is considering deploying the new system over EDACs infrastructure, which operates in the 800Mhz band, or switching to 400Mhz which will require new terminals and handsets.

Users will increase from 900, currently on EDACS, to about 2000 after other agencies go live.

There are no plans for the voice-only network to carry data, although Babic notes the government is "interested in the intersection between voice and data".

A spokesman for the Tasmanian Ambulance Service (TAS) said the network is a pleasant change for all agencies.

"The plans are a welcome development, but there hasn't been a lot a clear direction about what and who it will involve," he said.

The Ambulance service operates a mid-band VHF radio network in metropolitan areas and shares a regional link with the fire service. While channel numbering was provisioned in the mid-band networks to allow other agencies to inter-communicate, the spokesperson said the function was rarely used.

Babic could not confirm if the initiative is part of a wider reform to shared-services, but said the Tasmania Police Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL), and ambulance electronic reporting projects could be extended to other agencies.

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