RIVERSIDE – Scanner enthusiasts and others who monitor law enforcement radio traffic in Riverside County got dead air today when trying to tune in sheriff’s broadcasts following the county’s long-awaited switch to a digital public safety communication network.
The switchover from the decades-old analog system to digital began at 2 a.m. Sunday and was completed at 8 this morning, according to sheriff’s officials.
”So far, the system is running well,” said sheriff’s Lt. Eric Briddick. ”There have been no significant issues or problems.”
The Public Safety Enterprise Communication System utilizes signal encryption that prevents the general public from hearing what’s being transmitted or received, much like a satellite channel that cannot be accessed without a passkey, according to the Department of Information Technology.
The PSEC switchover was originally scheduled a year ago, but technical hiccups delayed it, first to July 2013 and then to the start of 2014. The $143 million project was initiated in 2007 and replaces the analog radio network that had been in place at the sheriff’s department for decades.
Sheriff’s officials have touted the digital system’s ”interoperability,” or compatibility with neighboring public safety agencies. The PSEC network, built by Motorola, is not impeded by terrain, buildings and other ”blind spots” that can leave deputies without the means to communicate with dispatchers and each other, officials have said.
According to a report by county Chief Information Officer Kevin Crawford, the new system boasts 95 percent reliability, meaning that for every 100 communication streams, only 5 will be interrupted or delayed.
The PSEC network covers about 86 percent of the 7,300-square-mile county, and users can seamlessly tap four separate voice and data channels, including a 4.9 GHz broadband stream, for real-time delivery of information.
Officials say the new system will permit firefighters and law enforcement personnel to connect with ease, as well as personnel from other agencies, including animal control, the District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Public Health.
Scanner hobbyists will be out of luck, provided they aren’t able to obtain after-market products that enable them to tune in communications.
A county official said that the PSEC equipment has to be custom programmed before any of the sheriff’s channels can be received.
Media outlets will have to apply to lease pre-programmed digital scanners.