Committee tables state radio system upgrade bill

The Joint Appropriations Committee on Tuesday tabled a Senate bill that would have set aside $3.09 million to begin an upgrade of the South Dakota public safety radio system.

The money in SB 121 would have been the first of seven installment payments to help fill coverage gaps and upgrade the state system and its radios to P25, the national standard for public safety communications used by federal and state governments.

Motorola has told the state that if the current radios are not upgraded by the end of 2017, they will no longer be supported.

The appropriation would have allowed the state to upgrade 16,000 radios to P25 from SZ, a Motorola proprietary system. It would also upgrade sites and balance of network, add electronics for 12 sites and civil and materials for 12 new tower sites.

South Dakota since 1980 has been using Deployable UHF (450 MHz) and VHF (150 MHz) for interoperability during events and disasters, but initially there were no radio communications between different agencies. The 1998 Spencer tornado demonstrated a need for a coordinated system.

In 1999, the Legislature directed the eight state agencies using radio communications to integrate into a common system, and Gov. Bill Janklow expanded the scope to include local agencies.

The initial buildout of a state radio system that included 35 sites was completed in 2003, and the system has since been expanded through grants to 57 sites, providing 98 percent geographic coverage.