Sudbury police are getting an upgrade and it's expected to make police service better outside of the city's core.

Greater Sudbury Police say a new and improved radio system will replace equipment bought in the 90s that offers better reception and better communication between the police and other emergency services.

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Sudbury Police Chief Frank Elsner (CBC)

Police Chief Frank Elsner said the rocky landscape of northern Ontario can make choosing a new radio system more complicated — and Sudbury itself is a unique challenge.

"Radio signals transmit in a straight line, so if there's a large rock formation, some of the mountain hill areas we have in the community, the communication system we have can't penetrate that," he said.

"So we have to find technology and ways to get around that system and be able to communicate."

Past due

Sudbury police’s old system was about four years past its expiry date.

"The consultants that we brought in to look at it said that we were ready for a catastrophic failure of our system at anytime," Elsner said.

"So we're just kind of holding this thing together with a little bit of barn-wire until we get this new thing up and running."

Elsner said the new $14 million radio system should be completely rolled out by the end of September, and noted the expense will be paid off over the expected 15-year life span of the equipment.

It will be a welcome change for staff sergeant Craig Moxam, who oversees the communications centre for the police and fire departments.

"The new system will provide us 95 per cent coverage of the municipality, 95 per cent of the time," he said.

"In other words, everywhere we expect a firefighter or a police officer to attend, they should be able to have coverage from their handheld portable or their mobile device in the vehicle."

‘Far better system’

Moxam said the new system will also allow for improved communication between emergency services, particularly in the case of firefighters.

"When they're in the field, all of their communications will be heard through the dispatch," he said.

$14 million price tag brings:

Brand new gear for the fire department

Upgrades to the existing infrastructure on tower sites

Cables, antennas, new portable radios in the vehicle fleet for police, fire and transit cars

Fire paging equipment for volunteer fire fighters

"Previously, they weren't. All of that information that's broadcast for both police and fires is recorded on a central logging device. So from a safety perspective, that allows us to be able to provide that level of safety for the officers and for the firefighters."

The new system also has the ability for every frontline fire fighter to have a network radio assigned to them, Moxam added.

"Only their fire captains and their fire vehicles were equipped with radios before," he said.

Moxam said the price tag for the new radio system will be split among the fire and police services, as well as the city's transit department.

"Because it's a city system now, there's the potential and capacity within that radio system to expand in future years for other users to join," he said.

Elsner said the new radios will not just improve safety for emergency workers, but they will increase public safety, too.

"If the officers can get out to a scene and call for assistance, call for ambulances, call for fire, that makes the difference," he said. 

As it stands right now, officers sometimes have to use their own cell phones to call in back up when they're in parts of the city that don't get radio coverage.

'Ideal transition'

While the communications centre at police headquarters is being re-built with the new technology, Moxam said the current dispatch staff will be temporarily moving to the Lionel E. Lalonde Centre in Azilda.

"It's the most ideal transition plan we could have imagined," Moxam said. "Once the system is tested and operational here, we'll move our staff back. But the old radio system will stay at the Lionel E. Lalonde Centre, so we'll always have the ability to have a fully operating back-up system elsewhere in the city.

As it stands right now, if there's an emergency, police communications has to move to the provincially-operated ambulance communications centre on Highway 69 South. 

Moxam said the new temporary location will also serve as a training centre in the future for future communications staff.