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Article posted: 12/5/2012 9:22 PM

Elgin gives nod to new police, fire radio system

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Elgin plans to purchase a state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar police and fire radio system that would more than double the current, aging system's capacity, and would allow emergency responders to better communicate with their counterparts in other communities.

The city council's committee of the whole gave its OK Tuesday to move forward with a nearly $11.7 million agreement with Motorola Solutions, based in Schaumburg, to purchase a so-called P25 interoperable communications system that uses the STARCOM21 radio system.

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STARCOM21 is used by state agencies plus Cook, DuPage and McHenry counties, and municipalities like Arlington Heights, Schaumburg and Naperville. Elgin would be able to communicate with surrounding communities even if they don't use the same system thanks to the new system's dual-band capacity, Elgin Police Cmdr. Bill Wolf said.

The agreement also includes a fire station alerting system and a next-generation 911 system that will eventually be able to accept text messages, videos and photos sent via cellphone, said Pat Hughes, large projects manager for Motorola.

"This is the best solution for Elgin," Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said, adding that city officials have been researching and planning the issue for about five years.

Elgin's current police and fire radio system was purchased in 1995, and its essential parts are no longer being manufactured, Wolf said. Its technology is limited because it operates on one band and four frequencies only, and because radio coverage sometimes is lost when emergency responders go deep inside a building, or go outside city limits for operations such as surveillance, Wolf said.

"This is our lifeline as police officers and firefighters," he said.

The city spends about $160,000 per year to maintain the current system, an expense that would increase to about $250,000 with the new system. However, Motorola would upgrade the system with the latest software every two years, so the additional expense is economically sound in the long run, Wolf said.

"In another 15 years down the line we're not going to come back and say we need $12 million for a new system," he said.

The city's staff recommended also setting aside an additional 10 percent of the cost -- or $1.1 million -- in contingency funds allocated from the Emergency Telephone Safety Board.

The purchase of the radio system would be included in the 2013 budget, and would be funded by 10-year general obligation bonds to be issued in spring 2013. The city council is expected to adopt the 2013 budget on Dec. 14.

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