A federally mandated switch to new radio technology will not affect local emergency dispatchers, police officers and firefighters who are already using updated equipment.
Public safety agencies are required to change to narrow-band radio transmissions by Jan. 1. In the Fort Dodge area, such agencies have already made the conversion, and some have been using narrow-band transmissions since last year.
''We're doing really well,'' said Tony Jorgensen, the Webster County emergency management coordinator. ''All of the emergency services are narrow-banded.''
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
All of the public service agencies in Webster County — including the Fort Dodge Police Department — now have the new narrow-band radio systems as patrol officer Keaton Lunn demonstrates.
Jorgensen said the county tornado warning sirens, which are activated by radio, are still being converted to the new system. He said the technicians doing the work are waiting for some parts, but will have the sirens updated by Jan. 1.
Other counties in the area have also succeeded in converting to narrow- band technology.
Jim Kelly, the emergency management coordinator in Kossuth County, said the use of narrow band transmissions there started on July 15.
''We wanted to start early in case we ran into any bugs,'' he said.
Pocahontas County Sheriff Bob Lampe said units in that county switched over to narrow banding in January.
The federal requirement is intended to create room for more channels in the radio spectrum. By compressing, or narrow-banding, each channel, more channels can be added.
Agencies that don't comply with the narrow-band requirement would find that their radios don't work as well.
In Fort Dodge, the Fire Department spent $5,000 in the 2011-2012 fiscal year to avoid that problem, according to Fire Chief David Luers. He said some new radios were purchased and some already owned by the department were updated. The result, he said, is that the department is "100 percent narrow band compliant."
Fort Dodge Police Chief Tim Carmody said his department began the transition to narrow band technology more than a year ago. He said 10 new radios for the police cars were bought at a cost of about $1,000. Grant money covered that expense.
The 12 warning sirens within the city limits are also radio-activated. They were installed in the late 1990s and needed some maintenance work as well as the narrow-band upgrades, according to Carmody.
In October, the City Council hired Frontline Plus Inc., of Monticello, Minn., to do the necessary narrow- banding work at a cost of $19,665.
Webster County Sheriff Brian Mickelson said his department has been using narrow-band transmissions for ''quite some time.'' He added that the police departments in the county's small cities are also in compliance.