How to buy radios

By Bob Smith
APCO International Director of Strategic Development

Although we know there was a time long when public safety functioned without radios, it is hard for us to imagine now. The radio, almost more than any other piece of public safety equipment, has become the most vital tool we use in public safety. It's one tool that we all carry whether it's on your belt next to handcuffs, EMS shears or a fire department pager.

Regardless of whether you're purchasing radios for a fire department, law enforcement agency, EMS squad or even animal control a few things needs to be considered prior to purchase.

Although most radios today offer some level of interoperability, it is important that an agency research this before making a purchase decision. Project 25 is the standard for public safety mission critical communications. Can the radio communicate with other P25 radios provided by different manufacturers operating on the same RF spectrum (UHF, VHF, low-band, 800-MHz, etc)? Can the radio operate in multiple frequency bands for interoperability? Does the radio meet the Project 25 standard for Common Air Interface?

Durability and Usability
Radios are used in every type of weather and in every type of situation so they must be capable of functioning in any possible environment and situation. Among others, they should be submersible and meet standards for MIL810C, D, E, F. Furthermore the devices should be easy to access and operate by field users with top mounted displays, knobs that can be turned using gloves, easy access emergency buttons. for use during extreme situations

Each type of discipline will have its own requirements, but some are universal.

  • Mayday Button. All portable radios should be equipped with a Mayday or emergency-alert button that is easily accessible but recessed to prevent accidental activation.
  • Identifier. Portable radios should include an identifier that transmits an identification code with each transmission specific to that unit.
  • Intrinsically safe. Portable radios should be safe for the environment where they are being operated.
  • Toning. Portable radios should also be equipped with a paging option that allows the radio to serve as a radio pager for receiving tone alerts for alarms or for emergency evacuation procedures on scene.
  • Coverage. All portable radios will provide some level of coverage, evaluations should be considered to ensure agency coverage requirements are met.

The radio is possibly the most important tool public safety uses. It’s the primary means of dispatch, the source of on-going communications during events and our lifeline during emergency situations. Because it serves so many roles, agencies owe it to their personnel to take the time and effort to research all of their options and make careful consideration prior to purchasing the radios they issue their responders to do their job.

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Bob Smith is the Director of Strategic Development at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International. His almost two decades in public safety includes rising through the ranks from firefighter/EMT to captain of the department’s hazardous materials response and through the ranks of public safety communications from telecommunicator to county 9-1-1 Director. Along the way, he's been actively involved in emergency management on the state and local levels, served as a nationally registered EMT, a College Campus Safety Officer, an EPA-certified hazardous materials technician and a liaison to the US Secret Service and US Capitol Police. A world-renowned lecturer and subject matter expert in the public safety arena and author of "Active Shooter Incidents for Public Safety Communications," "The Telecommunicator’s Role in Homeland Security" and other public safety-oriented texts, Bob has been featured in interviews with NBC, ABC News, USA News and the Associated Press among others.

APCO International is the world's largest organization dedicated to public safety communications. More than 15,000 members rely on APCO for their professional needs – from examining standards and issues to providing education, products and services. It is a member-driven association of communications professionals that provides leadership, influences public safety communications decisions of government and industry, promotes professional development, and, fosters the development and use of technology for the benefit of the public. Its subsidiaries include the APCO Institute, Automated Frequency Coordination and the Public Safety Foundation of America.

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