Communication is one of the most important things to have in almost any profession. However, when it comes to law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical services, private security, fugitive recovery and the military, communication can be a life or death concern.
There is always the question of “What should we get?” or “What should we look into?” and the answer is never a simple one. Each profession has different requirements and even features that are used. We’ll try to cover some of these areas and even though some agencies already have set requirements, we’ll cover those too.
Things to Think About
The first thing that you have to take into consideration is the coverage area that you want to layout in your research scope. Get out a blank sheet of paper and answer these questions.
- Are you operating in a single building?
- How many square feet is the building?
- How many floors are in the building?
- Are you operating over an expanded area outdoors?
- How many square miles is your operational area?
- Do you have external operations in other areas?
- Do you need to connect external operations from multiple locations?
- Are you operating in a combined indoor and outdoor area?
- If so, you will have to take information from the previous questions into consideration.
As a quick rule of thumb, UHF frequencies are better for indoor and inter-building communications while VHF frequencies are better for outdoor settings. The UHF signals are better for penetrating wood, steel, and concrete, giving you better range and performance in urban environments and around buildings. VHF signals travel farther in less urban areas and tend to “hug” the earth better, providing better performance outdoors or on hilly terrain.
If you are needing to cover a large area and/or multiple floors, you will most likely need a repeater (or multiple repeaters). A repeater is basically exactly what the name implies; it repeats the radio transmission after boosting the signal so that you can extend the coverage area.
The downside to repeaters is the costs involved. You need the repeater (which can run you anywhere from $1,000 – $5,000 per repeater), plus the antenna and a tall structure to mount said antenna. For a single commercial building (something like a hospital or a mall) a single repeater is pretty easy to have installed and it shouldn’t break the bank.
For those looking to cover an extended area (several square miles), you should probably try to look into a Wide Area Network that is available in your area. For a small fee per month, you are able to use a company’s repeater network to extend your coverage. This will also eliminate having to shell out the money for multiple repeaters, some of the FCC paperwork, building permits, site surveys, et cetera. As an example, you can check out TRICONNEX which is the wide area network that covers our area of operation.
Note: However, keep in mind that a wide area network is not a magic lamp that will solve all of your problems. You may have to look into in-vehicle repeaters (which can cost around $2,000 per vehicle) or look into installing a site repeater if you require both a wide coverage area in conjunction with covering a large building or complex. Systems like TRICONNEX are great, but you may see a drop in performance when you are inside large buildings that are limiting the signal strength.
Something else that should be taken into consideration is the need for private communication. This is important for all of the aforementioned professions where you don’t want someone being able to eavesdrop on transmissions or be able to hijack your frequency and use it as their own. A digital radio system is great for helping prevent this kind of stuff from happening. Let’s be honest, security companies don’t want someone to just hop on their frequency and send them on a wild goose chase nor do they want to be made to look like idiots because someone decided to ‘jam’ their frequency with music, movie quotes, foul language or by keeping a hot mike open.
Granted, yes a lot of what I just mentioned (the shenanigans) is an FCC violation and is punishable, but ‘you’ would still have to find the person doing it first.
Texting and Alerts
This may sound a little over the top (as far as two-way radios are concerned), but they are still options for digital systems. Often, you will see the text or alert system used within larger security companies when a central dispatcher performs a ‘data push’ to all radios for BOLOs (Be On the Look Out) or APBs (All Points Bulletin). This type of information is generally limited to things like license plates numbers, subject descriptions, lockdown alerts, et cetera that needs to be relayed to other officers/guards, but you do not wish to broadcast it via voice transmissions. This information can be sent via text message from one cell phone to others, but at the same time, it is an option if the company prohibits personal phones while on the floor.
Radio to Radio Calls
Also, with some radio systems, you have the ability to place radio to radio calls. This allows you to choose an individual radio to communicate with instead of transmitting to the entire group on your frequency.
Again, depending on the radio system and the services that you have, you can also take advantage of emergency alerts. The radios that work with this system have a little orange button on the radio that, when pressed, has the possibility to send out an emergency alert to supervisors and/or dispatchers, letting them know that someone is in trouble. Some radios also have a “Man Down” or “Lone Worker” feature. Without getting into too much detail of how it works, these features can either send out an alert or an audible alarm in case the worker has fallen or has been incapacitated.
Finally, the GPS feature on certain radio systems allows supervisors and/or dispatchers to actively track the location and/or movement of the radio user. While this feature can (unfortunately) allow companies to micro-manage their employees, it’s more important purpose is to help locate users involved in emergency situations (i.e. cases where an emergency alert is sent or a ‘Man Down’ feature is tripped).
It’s also helpful if someone decides to try and steal one of your radios…unless it is a smart thief, chances are, it’ll lead the cops to the thief’s front door.
Radios vs. Cell Phones
To be honest, there is little contest when comparing radios to cell phones. The easiest way that I look at it, you give your employees in the field radios and if you sit behind a desk all day, then you can deal with a cell phone. No matter what happens or how fast you are, in a potential emergency, pushing a radio’s PTT button is lightwaves faster than using a cell phone (even if you are using speed dial).
Granted, there are situations where you do not have to worry about radios. For example, if you only have one person guarding an office or a parking garage, there is no reason why he or she cannot just use their cell phone. However, if you have multiple (more than two) people working at the same property, the same event or even in the same region, you need to furnish them with radios. If you want them to work as a team, you have to give them the tools to do so.
As a final note, chances are, if you have to go hands-on with another individual (especially when the other person is extremely combative or drugged), a quality and rugged two-way radio will handle and survive a lot better than say a Samsung Galaxy 8 or an iPhone 7s Plus with a large glass screen.