Wake Forest Builds Its Own 2-Way Radio System

Here’s how one North Carolina university overcame its radio coverage deficiencies.

The complex and sometimes dangerous job of protecting the Wake Forest University community makes dependable radio communication a necessity. Today, the school’s officers can easily use their radios to request emergency assistance, connect with different radio channels, review recordings of past conversations and communicate with each other from anywhere on campus.

But it wasn’t long ago that the Wake Forest University Police Department was struggling with insufficient radio coverage. In fact, as recently as three years ago the department struggled with communication deficiencies that made communication impossible in some areas on campus.

Old Radios Had Indoor Coverage Gaps
It started in 2007, when Forsyth County and the City of Winston-Salem completed a trunked digital 800 MHz public safety grade radio network and offered to lease radio frequencies to Wake Forest. The department accepted the offer because using the same radio system allowed interoperability, and soon its police and EMS transmissions were on the 800 MHz system.

As the system was used, however, gaps in radio coverage began to appear on campus and became more apparent daily, particularly when the radios were used indoors. Many of the school’s concrete and brick buildings were impenetrable by the 800 MHz radio waves, so the radios were often inadequate when the officers found themselves needing to use their portables indoors.

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Then a particularly alarming incident occurred that highlighted the need to upgrade the school’s radio systems. In 2009, an officer was in a chase with a suspected burglar in the basement of a campus building. She tried to reach dispatch and other officers for backup but was unable to communicate with them. That’s when the department decided something needed to change.

But a study conducted by the department revealed that to bring the 800 MHz coverage up to the required levels needed to improve indoor coverage, bi-directional antenna (BDA) systems would have to be installed in almost every one of the buildings at a cost of nearly a half-million dollars.

University Builds Its Own System
So the University Police Department began investigating the possibility of building their own radio system rather than spending money to improve the campus coverage with the 800 MHz system. This would be cost effective especially considering Wake Forest would, in addition to investing in BDAs, still have to pay the annual lease fees to use the 800 MHz system along with ongoing annual radio maintenance expenses.

The new radio system would have to provide reliable coverage both in-building and externally so that communications could be maintained between the university police department, Wake Forest EMS, callboxes, the university’s parking and transportation office and the university’s facilities. The system would also need to interoperate with the county/city police and fire mutual aid channels on the 800 MHz trunked digital system.

After an investigation into what technologies and systems were available, the university police department settled on using both digital and analog VHF conventional repeaters to fulfill their radio needs. The technology chosen was the Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) standard. The university call box system still operated on analog, and so it was important to keep that capability as well. The entire system was to be purchased from WFPD radio vendor Mobile Communications and could be installed for about half what the BDA’s alone were estimated to cost.

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