Police in nine cities along the I-5 corridor in Snohomish County have made the switch to a new emergency radio system, and firefighters will soon follow.
Officers using the powerful new 800-megahertz system say it has improved their ability to talk to each other, especially inside buildings.
"Everybody seems pretty pleased with it," Everett Police Sgt. Boyd Bryant said. "It allows us to do more complex and specialized communication tasks than the old radio system. It’s definitely superior."
The 800-megahertz system provides more emergency radio channels and uses them more efficiently than the existing VHF system, said Ron Solemsaas, Snohomish County Emergency Radio System project coordinator.
The change is meant to help speed aid to your door when you dial 911, ensure that dispatchers can send emergency crews during a major disaster and improve radio coverage.
The $34.2 million communications system is being installed in two phases, starting with the county’s southwest corner.
The first phase of the switch includes Everett, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Marysville, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo, Brier and Woodway.
"Everything’s going well," Solemsaas said. "We’ve had no problems at all."
During the next few weeks, fire departments in those nine cities will convert to 800 megahertz, he said.
The Everett Fire Department may be the first fire agency to make the change. The goal is to switch one agency a week, with the first phase completed in about 45 days, Snohomish County Emergency Radio System manager Spencer Bahner said.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Emergency Management and county medical examiner also will change to 800-megahertz frequencies.
The new system uses microwave transmitters at towers placed throughout the county to link emergency communication instead of telephone lines.
The system’s additional channels make it easier for police, firefighters and dispatchers to talk to each other without fear the airwaves will be busy, Solemsaas said.
The next phase is expected to include Snohomish, Lake Stevens, several fire districts and the Snohomish Health District.
Monroe and Sultan, however, have rejected the idea of switching to the 800-megahertz system and have been looking at other alternatives. Those city officials are concerned about the cost, and doubt the system will work as promised.
The 800-megahertz system will link with the existing VHF system so police and firefighters who don’t use the higher frequencies still can talk to each other, Solemsaas said.
Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or