MARSHALL - As several counties in southwest Minnesota prepare to switch to a new radio system, emergency responders are doing their part. Training sessions for the ARMER (Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response) system were held at the Lyon County Law Enforcement Center this week.
Training geared toward emergency medical responders and firefighters in Lyon County was the focus of the sessions.
Lyon County Emergency Manager Tammy VanOverbeke said training emergency responders to use ARMER is one of the necessary steps toward the new system going fully live. Because of the amount of preparation and infrastructure involved, like building radio towers and installing new equipment, as well as training, the transition to ARMER has been gradual in the past few years.
"It's been a long process," said Murray County Sheriff Steve Telkamp, one of the presenters during a Friday training session. However, he said, there will be benefits to completing it.
Presenters during training Friday afternoon included current and retired law enforcement officers.
Training sessions included both hands-on equipment training and overviews of how the ARMER system works. The training is required before responders can begin using ARMER radio equipment, VanOverbeke said.
The ARMER radio system is being adopted by many Minnesota counties, partly to improve emergency communications and partly to comply with an FCC mandate to use narrowband radio.
Telkamp said the 2013 narrowband deadline wasn't the only reason that law enforcement and emergency response agencies considered ARMER. But when the deadline was set, "It was a time for counties to look at all the options," he said.
A state board governs the radio system across Minnesota, Telkamp said, but the governance structure is balanced between metro-area counties and greater Minnesota. Anyone with a public safety need may use the system. VanOverbeke said this means a wide range of organizations will need to be trained to use ARMER, including hospitals, public health agencies and even public school bus drivers.
Retired Pope County Sheriff Tom Larson said the ARMER radios will use higher frequencies than current emergency radio systems, which will mean less interference. The ARMER radio system will also address some of the difficulties faced by emergency responders trying to use shared radio frequencies, he said. The system is controlled by a central channel, which helps to manage communications more efficiently.
The radios also use a digital signal and "the clarity you can expect is very good," Larson said. With a digital radio signal, he said, "You either have it or you don't," instead of getting a weak or difficult-to-hear signal.
Telkamp said one of the benefits of so many counties switching to the ARMER system at the same time is increased interoperability, or the ability for different agencies to communicate with each other if needed.
Other preparations in Lyon County have included the construction of a new radio tower in Minneota to help expand signal coverage.
Statewide, the ARMER system includes more than 300 radio towers, covering 75 percent of Minnesota. Telkamp said 72 of Minnesota's 87 counties are participating in the system. Locally, there are active radio towers in communities including Marshall, Tracy and Slayton. In Lincoln County, towers will be built in Ivanhoe and Lake Benton.