Regional first responders ready for digital switch

CREST inks agreement with Motorola Solutions Canada for service


The Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications (CREST) switch from analog to digital is slated to start this year in the Capital Region. The new 700 megahertz system will be rolled out first in the core municipalities of Victoria, Saanich, Esquimalt and Oak Bay.

“This is actually a required upgrade. It’s going to improve service, the functionality,” said Oak Bay Police Chief Andy Brinton.

The CREST board announced Monday an agreement with Motorola Solutions Canada (Motorola) for the infrastructure equipment component of its planned replacement of the regional radio system. The new system will be based on digital radio technology known as Project 25, which provides first responders with enhanced audio clarity and coverage.

“What it will mean for Oak Bay is we’ll continue to have good radio service here in the district. The new system will be digital as opposed to analog and as responders we’ll have our own airwave where we’ll be able to operate,” said Oak Bay Fire Chief Dave Cockle. “Industry Canada created the system … this 700 MHz system specifically for responders, which is good for us. It’ll enhance the service here in the Capital Region as well as the Lower Mainland.”

In September 2014, CREST approved $24.5 million for a five-year plan to instal new transmitters and receivers, convert  existing radios to P25 compatible and purchase new radios for first responders. The infrastructure accounts for roughly half of the project.

CREST started discussions with Motorola after reviewing several potential vendors. What set Motorola apart is a concurrent partnership with Emergency Communications for British Columbia Inc., (E-Comm), which serves first responders in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.  “CREST’s alignment with E-Comm is based on a shared vision to be leaders in public safety communications providing effective emergency communications for the safety of our communities,” said Gordie Logan, chair of the CREST board of directors.

“Leveraging our buying power through our association with E-Comm allows for the highest value return and a common technology platform that will strengthen our regional public and responder safety operations.”

CREST made use of a purchase option in the contract between E-Comm and Motorola affording the same volume pricing. “The fact that CREST was able to make arrangements to benefit from the same purchasing agreement that the group on the Lower Mainland has, definitely is beneficial. They are able to enjoy that same cost savings,” Brinton said. “What else is interesting is Motorola locked in at an exchange rate that is much better than if CREST was going to them today….”

CREST saved about $1.2 to $2 million in volume pricing and the agreement reflects a $1.15 Canadian dollar to US instead of the higher current rate. The partnership also provides public safety benefits with both on a common technology platform, strengthening regional resiliency and interoperability.

“What that is going to mean is all agencies, not just on Vancouver Island but the Lower Mainland, will be on the same equipment,” Brinton said. During a natural disaster or large event where jurisdictions come together to provide emergency coverage, that would be invaluable.

“It’s a better platform to start with, and then a side benefit of it is the interoperability with the Lower Mainland,” Brinton said. “They’re going to come with similar radios and everyone’s going to know how to use them. Members who travelled would arrive with their own radios.”

Testing in the second level of underground parking at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and other concrete buildings – “areas where we didn’t have much radio communication” – has shown a definite improvement, Cockle said.

“Fire and police have been working with CREST for a little over a year – knowing this was coming – to ensure we have the best radio capability we can get for the dollars spent. The radios are loud and clear and have good bandwidth for us.”