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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 27th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 52 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 52

Santa Maria invites neighboring agencies to join upgraded radio communication system


It’s not unusual for the Santa Maria Police Department to receive calls from cellphones, which can be difficult to track.

In one such case, a 10-year-old called the department’s dispatch center from her apartment, where she had locked herself in the bathroom with a cellphone. In the next room, her mother was being robbed at gunpoint. The child knew her apartment number but not her address, and dispatchers had no idea where to send help.

Sgt. Alfredo Ruiz (pictured) of the Santa Maria Police Department said at the Technology Summit on Feb. 21 that the city’s new 700 megahertz radio communications system had greatly improved various processes in the department. Representatives of the dispatch center and the Santa Maria Fire Department also hailed the system.

Fortunately, Santa Maria’s Central Regional Interoperability Communications System, a recently upgraded 700 megahertz radio communications and computer aided dispatch system, includes a high-tech mapping feature, which allowed dispatchers to retransmit the cellphone signal and pinpoint the phone’s exact location. Officers were on scene and apprehended the suspect in less than three minutes.

That call stood out to longtime dispatcher Melissa Parker, who shared the story on Feb. 21 with attendees of Santa Maria’s Technology Summit at the Radisson Hotel. Less than a year ago, Parker said Santa Maria’s dispatchers would have had to call the cellphone service provider, request user information, and find the caller’s billing address in order to locate the 10-year-old caller. That process, she told the audience, could take more than 15 minutes.

“And now in 30 seconds we can get this information,” Parker said. “So for us, these are huge, huge, things we’re looking at.”

The new mapping system is capable of so much more, Parker said, and is just one of many features provided through Santa Maria’s new communications system, which various agencies from around the Central Coast applauded at the Feb. 21 Technology Summit.

As the first city in the area to upgrade and host a core master network site, the brain of the system, Santa Maria city officials said at the summit that surrounding agencies could piggyback off their technology investments through a shared governance model. The cooperating agencies will be allowed to utilize the system for various degrees of communication, they explained.

That could vastly improve communication for public safety agencies, schools, businesses, and other organizations on the Central Coast, they said, and users in Santa Maria are already seeing the benefits.

Sgt. Alfredo Ruiz of the Santa Maria Police Department told attendees that the department’s radio coverage and clarity have greatly improved since the new 700 megahertz system went live in May of 2017.

“We’d go into the Santa Maria Town Center Mall and we’d lose coverage,” Ruiz said at the event. “Officers would go into the mall to take a report and they couldn’t communicate with our dispatch center. After getting our new radio system, the penetration into these buildings, it’s phenomenal.”

The system also allows for various seperate channels and talk groups, has improved the department’s records management process, and includes a mapping system that enables dispatchers and police to upload building blueprints and maps when necessary, Ruiz said.

Santa Maria Fire Department Battalion Chief Tom Crakes added that users can also easily switch back to their old communications systems in emergency situations.

“It’s going to improve the safety of our citizens and our public safety here,” Crakes told attendees.

The development of the Central Regional Interoperability Communications System was just a portion of recent improvements made to the Santa Maria Police Department, which moved to an entirely new location in June 2015, according to Mark van de Kamp, public information officer for the City Manager’s Office.

Motorola Solutions, a data communications equipment provider that’s been around for 90 years, was chosen by various Santa Maria police and fire department employees tasked with finding an adequate communications system during the police department’s transition. Santa Maria’s public safety agencies have long used safety radios and dispatch consoles provided by Motorola, van de Kamp said, and the city now uses Motorola 911 dispatch call-taking systems, computer aided dispatch, radios, and records management systems.

The new system, once fully rolled out to the public, will provide all city entities with communication coverage through a standardized frequency range that is simulcast across towers in the area. Towers can be added as more coverage is needed, van de Kamp said.

It took years to develop the system, and van de Kamp said city officials hope surrounding agencies will partner with the city to create regional interoperability. The Technology Summit allowed interested agencies to learn how to utilize the city’s enhanced technology without making massive investments, he said.

“The smaller agencies and businesses who could not individually afford to invest in this comprehensive system now have the opportunity to do so by piggybacking on the city’s contract with Motorola,” van de Kamp said. “This enhances the public’s protection, improves public safety response times, and maximizes deployment of public safety personnel.”

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at

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