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New communication channels to replace analog methods described as outdated, failing

PHOTO COURTESY: AMR - American Medical Response paramedics bring a patient to Good Samaritan Medical Center's emergency room in Portland.Clackamas County is gearing up to modernize emergency communication channels used by first responders, pivoting away from its decades-old analog radio system in favor of a more efficient digital system.

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, the county began the switch from its existing analog radio system which has become "outdated and at risk of failure" since it was built in 2000, according to a press release from the Clackamas 800 Radio Group, which oversees the communication channels used by most medical, fire and law enforcement agencies countywide.

The system upgrade is part of a project agreement approved by the county in 2016, authorizing the acquisition of an additional 14 emergency radio sites which Clackamas 800 officials say will provide increased reliability and radio coverage across the county.

"It's the link between the dispatch center and the officer and then responder to responder. We will have better coverage because we're adding the 14 sites," said John Hartsock, manager for the radio group. "And with that, there's better service to the citizens."COURTESY PHOTO: CLACKAMAS FIRE - Firefighters respond to a blaze spotted by Oregon City citizens at the bottom of the McLoughlin bluff in 2021.

The approximately $66 million project is funded through bonds from Ballot Measure 3-476, approved by Clackamas County voters in 2016 to update the existing analog system, which includes technology from the early 1990s and has not had active vendor support since 2017, per the press release.

"Technicians have been forced to search online auction sites and third-party vendors to obtain replacement parts," the radio group's statement reads. "In some cases, they have had to take parts from other systems or borrow parts from neighboring public-safety jurisdictions to keep the system functioning."

The new system will utilize a free online streaming service and mobile app allowing the public to listen to broadcasts of first responders' communications over dispatch channels.

Communications over law-enforcement dispatch channels will be released to the public following a built-in 30-minute delay, which "allows first responders to communicate during emergencies without fear of broadcasting information in real-time that could endanger them or the public," per the press release.SUBMITTED PHOTO - Emergency dispatchers help coordinate police, fire and medical units in Clackamas County.

To learn more about Clackamas 800 and the radio system upgrade project, click here.

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