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San Luis Obispo County in California inaugurates new IP-based interoperable communications system

Sheriff Ian Parkinson,
of San Luis Obispo
County in California

About a month ago, San Luis Obispo County in California -- on the Pacific Coast between San Jose and Los Angeles -- suddenly found itself in a total electricity blackout. The County Sheriff, Ian Parkinson, who would normally have hopped onto the sheriff’s department radio communications network during an emergency like this, happened to be outside San Luis Obispo, in nearby Santa Barbara County, when the blackout occurred. 

Under normal conditions, Sheriff Parkinson would not have been able to communicate on the department’s radio network with any of his personnel while he was physically outside his own county, but these were not normal conditions. 

San Luis Obispo County had recently deployed a brand-new, interoperable, state-of-the-art communications system that allowed him to pull out his personal smartphone and instantly connect into his department’s network -- even from outside his home county. The incident was a vivid illustration of the fact that communications had just taken a big leap forward in the County for the sheriff’s department, as well as the California Highway Patrol and seven city police and fire departments spread across the County. 

Raytheon Company and Twisted Pair Solutions, a Seattle-based provider of mission-critical solutions for secure, real-time communication, unveiled on July 22 the next-generation dispatch system deployed for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff. This state-of-the-art dispatch center is one of the first in the nation to be purely IP-based and supports the use of smartphones and tablets for seamless first responder critical communications, anywhere, on any device. 

Initially, Parkinson plans to allow only about 40 of his specialized personnel, principally investigative and administrative employees, to use their personal iPhones and Android-based smartphones to connect to the department’s network. That’s because many of these employees work undercover and do not routinely carry their official police radios, Parkinson told Government Security News during a telephone interview on July 18. Also, because he rarely carries his police radio when he is in his own headquarters, Parkinson will also use his smartphone to connect to the official network. “I have my smartphone on me at all times,” he explained. 

He told GSN that he has been eager to upgrade the department’s communications system ever since he was elected sheriff about two and a half years ago. “Our radio system was in dire need of replacement,” he recalled. “We were buying parts all over the place to keep it together.” 

Parkinson and the County’s undersheriff, Tim Olivas, wanted to acquire a new communications system, but ran  into some resistance from the Country’s general services department, which did not seem to welcome the idea of change, the sheriff told GSN. “They were definitely reluctant,” Parkinson remembered. 

He and Olivas also had their hesitations. “We were keen on being on the cutting-edge, but we did not want to be on the bleeding-edge,” the sheriff said. 

The Raytheon-provided solution uses the company’s industry-leading interoperability gateway to enable communications with San Luis Obispo County’s existing radio systems. The solution also incorporates Twisted Pair’s WAVE Dispatch Communicator that turns a standards-based PC into a richly-featured communications dispatch console. The WAVE Mobile Communicator turns any Android, Apple iOS, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile smartphone into a multi-channel land mobile radio (LMR) handset for secure, on-demand push to talk (PTT) communications.   

Parkinson rattled off three main reasons why the shift to this new Raytheon/Twisted Pair communications system makes sense in the County. First, there is enhanced interoperability. The sheriff’s department can not only talk with other first responder agencies throughout the County on routine matters, but if a crisis were to develop, say, at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in the County -- caused by an accident or a man-made hostile act -- the ability to patch into other first responder agencies with the click-and-drag of a computer mouse will make it that much easier for key decision-makers to respond immediately and appropriately. 

Second, some of his key personnel -- particularly the undercover detectives pursuing narcotics- and gang-related criminals -- would now be able to communicate far more effectively using their personal smartphones. “That’s a huge benefit,” Parkinson told GSN. 

Third, the system will enable the department to realize one of its long-time goals, establishing a second dispatch center in the northern part of the County, in the City of Templeton. “We’ve always wanted to have a secondary site,” the sheriff said. 

“In addition to the challenges of aging equipment, many first responders seek to take advantage of new capabilities offered by smartphones and tablets and are looking forward to embracing the power of the FirstNet network,” commented, TJ Kennedy, director of public safety and security for Raytheon’s integrated defense systems business. “As the leader in deploying interoperable communications systems for public safety, Raytheon is at the forefront of enabling departments to take advantage of the latest technology today, and to be ready for the improved FirstNet network tomorrow.” 

“Raytheon has provided us with a next-generation dispatch system that bridges our existing radio system to the new capabilities of today’s smartphone and tablet technology, and FirstNet in the future,” said Sheriff Parkinson. “I am proud that our department is able to deploy the same technology that protects the communications for our most sensitive government installations worldwide to enhance public safety in the county.” 

Parkinson did not want to discuss the details of the pricing offered by Raytheon on the new communications system, but emphasized that there is no proprietary hardware or software involved in the new system that would make it hard for the County to migrate to another vendor in the future, if it chose to do so. “There is nothing that locks us into Raytheon or Twisted Pairs,” he told GSN. 

Raytheon’s Kennedy also avoid divulging any of the specifics of the financial arrangements between Raytheon and the County, but indicated that Raytheon was pleased to have been identified as the sole source supplier on this communications project, and offered the County a low price to help spread the word to other customers. “It was a good deal,” he told GSN. 

Scheduled to be on hand for the unveiling on July 22 were computer science students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who will participate in live demonstrations of the system. The students will also spend time with the Raytheon and Twisted Pair technical teams to learn more about how the new IP-based dispatch system operates.






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