A 10-year project to allow first responders from various local agencies to talk to one another on radios is nearly complete.
“It’s been a really long and arduous process, and we are looking forward to getting this thing on the air,” said Chief Paul Wilson of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, who leads the project.
Voters recognized the importance of such a system following the 2001 terrorist attacks and approved bond funds for a new local communications system in 2004.
Here are five things you need to know about the new Pima County Wireless Integrated Network.
1. It’s on budget.
The $102.3 million in bond money and government grants has bought 7,200 radios, antenna towers, a new regional dispatch center and a renovation of the city dispatch center.
2. It’s going live in a few months.
All the towers have been built — the challenging Tumamoc Hill project wrapped up last month — and the dispatch centers are done.
Pilot tests using the new hand-held radios are underway. Motorola will start installing radios in police cars next month, and training will follow, Wilson said.
First responders and dispatchers are expected to start using the system in the first week of January.
3. It’s not truly region-wide, but it’s close.
The system will include 30 public-safety agencies and 18 county public works departments.
The for-profit Rural/Metro and the nonprofit Ajo Ambulance weren’t part of the original plan, but now have joined. Agencies that opted out or scaled back their participation include the Marana Police Department, the Tucson Airport Authority, the city’s public works departments and several northwest-side fire departments.
4. Politics are still in play.
The Tohono O’odham Nation was separated into a second phase because the nation’s leaders haven’t given their approval to construct $3 million in towers at Kitt Peak, Jewek Mountain and a dispatch center.
The county already bought radios for the tribal agencies because “we’ve been acting with the belief that they are going to engage,” Wilson said.
5. There’s a new bureaucracy to manage it.
Deciding who’s responsible for what parts of the system will be up to a newly established 20-member governing board and new director John Voorhees, a retired Air Force officer.
“At the moment, we’re just working through the transition from the bond project to the daily operations,” Voorhees said.
One of the major issues the board will take up later is how to pay for upkeep and repairs.