County boosts radio communication

The radio tower at the sheriff’s building in Milaca, with the microwave sending and receiving equipment shaped like a small white dome, part way up the tower.

Princeton Union-Eagle

Mille Lacs County has a series of towers to handle the new 800 MHz communication. Three microwave towers, one each at Pease in Mille Lacs, and Gilman and Duelm in Benton County, form a triangular simulcast system for coverage in the majority of Mille Lacs. These towers pick up radio signals sent out in the field and send them to the master switch office in St. Cloud, which sends it into a large computer in St. Cloud, which then sends the signals to the intended radio recipients, Fjerstad said.

Actually, the Gilman tower covers the majority of Mille Lacs, Fjerstad said. Coverage for the northern part of the county is handled mainly by independent repeater towers in Onamia in Mille Lacs, Woodland in Kanabec County and Borden Lake in Crow Wing, Fjerstad said.

While there may be some spots inside a building where the radio communication isn’t complete with a hand-held radio, there is no such problem anywhere in Mille Lacs with the 800 MHz radios in the patrol cars, Lindgren said.

But in the older VHF radio world, the distance a hand radio signal would travel was maybe five miles and for the car radio was maybe 25 miles, Lindgren added. The county’s old VHS system relied solely on repeater towers to boost the signal and if a Mille Lacs officer drove to St. Cloud their radio signal would not reach the repeater tower in Milaca, Lindgren said.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) put up the towers for the new ARMER radio system and the locations have worked well in Mille Lacs, with the county’s long, narrow shape and the state highways running through, Lindgren said. He noted that MnDOT likes to have these towers along major roads to help its truck drivers communicate.

The new 800 MHz radio system has the basic 16 channels that emergency services have used for many years, plus now it has many extra channels that are “encrypted,” Lindgren pointed out. Communication over the encrypted channels, he explained, can’t be overheard by people who do not have a need to know. Lindgren cited officer safety as a big reason for that feature.

For the full story, see the Thursday, Oct. 18 print edition of the Times.