During the flood and tornado events that impacted the area over the last two decades, local police, sheriff, ambulance and fire crews were supplemented by emergency response teams from throughout the state. Ask Yellow Medicine County Sheriff Bill Flaten and he'll tell you that the extra man-power at the time was invaluable, but he'll also note that it was a bit of a logistical mess.
"The cops who were sent out to help came equipped with radios that did not operate at the same frequencies as ours, and so we were not able to communicate with them by radio," he said.
The lack of communication between such agencies has been a thorn in the side for state emergency services for years. This past month, however, Yellow Medicine County completed its multi-year long transition from its current dispatch system to the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) system, which has been developed to alleviate such communication issues.
"I am so happy to see some finality to it––that we're using it, it works like we said its going to work, and that people like it," said Flaten. "I would venture a guess that you're not going to find a cop in this county, now that we have switched to this, that isn't saying this is better than sliced bread."
According to information from the state, the ARMER system was first implemented in the Twin City metropolitan area in 2001, with a subsequent plan for a statewide system adopted by the legislature in 2002. By the end of 2013, all 87 counties are expected to have networks in the place that are ARMER system compatible.
Boiled down, the system, designed by the Minnesota Departments of Public Safety and Transportation, standardizes the mode of communication used by emergency service outfits statewide so that they are able to communicate with one another from any location in Minnesota.
The switch to a 700 - 800 Mhz frequency makes this possible by providing a larger bandwidth capable of processing much greater amounts of information.
Individuals with police scanners may want to take note, as they will require a new scanner capable of the higher frequency based communication. Otherwise, there are free online and smartphone app services that would also serve in this capacity.
Flaten says that sheriff's office has been working with local emergency services to lay the groundwork for the system over a period of four years, and not a day has gone by that ARMER hasn't required at least a portion of his day's work.
"I've put a whole lot of blood, sweat into this whole thing, I'm not going to lie," he said.
Statewide, the ARMER radio network is expected to have required the erection of 300 new towers to serve as a component of the backbone of the system. In Yellow Medicine, Flaten said towers had to be installed in Clarkfield, Echo and Canby, and that a ring of towers has been erected just outside of the county.
Page 2 of 2 - Other components of the system locally includes a variety of new computer equipment, a voice processing modulator (which digitizes spoken word) and scores of radios, that have been issued to all of the emergency service departments in the county.
The Yellow Medicine County Sheriff's Office and Board has maintained that the county has managed to stay ahead of the curve in terms of the transition. As a result there is the belief that it has allowed the county to gain a higher proportion of benefit from state grants to facilitate the network's creation, which have been issued on a first come first serve basis.
In sum, the project will have cost Yellow Medicine County approximately $2 million to implement. However, the portion of that amount that will have been billed directly to the county, and not offset by other types of aid, will be less than $400,000, Flaten said.
Prior to the installation of the ARMER system, Flaten said that the average reach of the sheriff's office radios was about 20 miles, depending on the weather. This meant that a sheriff's deputy in Granite Falls was unable to talk to a deputy stationed in Canby by radio. Now, Flaten can talk to a deputy in Canby just as easily he could talk to a deputy in Duluth. And with perfect clarity.