Powell ready for WyoLink

Posted 2/26/09

“If I talked to a person in Cody, it would be awfully scratchy,” said Zack Thorington. “Now I will be able to talk to someone out near Meeteetse with a portable radio when I am here in Powell.”

Thorington oversees Powell's …

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Powell ready for WyoLink


{gallery}02_26_09/wyolink{/gallery}Zack Thorington checks equipment at the Powell Police Department recently. The entire dispatch system was updated and is ready for WyoLink, a statewide, wireless communications system. Thorington oversees information technology for the city of Powell and spent the last few years getting the system updated for WyoLink. Tribune photo by Carla Wensky System will allow statewide radio communicationPowell Police officers soon will be able to communicate with law enforcement officials around the state from their squad cars or portable radios. Powell is one of the first communities in Wyoming to be ready for WyoLink, a public-safety wireless communications system that will allow statewide radio communication, among other things.

“If I talked to a person in Cody, it would be awfully scratchy,” said Zack Thorington. “Now I will be able to talk to someone out near Meeteetse with a portable radio when I am here in Powell.”

Thorington oversees Powell's information technology and serves as the WyoLink relationship manager for the city of Powell.

Powell has all the equipment ready to go, but is waiting for the state to finish the towers necessary for the WyoLink system.

Park County will be served by towers located at Dead Indian, Cedar Mountain and Three Mile. The Dead Indian and Cedar Mountain towers both are operational, Thorington said, but the state is waiting for the Federal Communication Commission to license the two sites before going live.

The Three Mile site is not erected yet due to some land issues with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Thorington added.

For the past two years, Thorington has worked on updating Powell's dispatch equipment. In July, Powell began using the new system.

“We're not using a single piece of equipment from the old system,” Thorington said.

Everything — from the tower to radios to dispatcher's headsets — was replaced.

Powell is one of the pioneers when it comes to the new dispatch system.

“As far as equipment goes, we were the first in the state,” Thorington said. “We had a proactive chief and administration that said, ‘Let's do it.' ”

The equipment is the best available on the market, Feathers said.

“We're all running on the latest available stuff,” he said.

While Thorington worked the last two years to secure grants and get Powell's system ready, the project started long before that.

“Our basic communication system was sorely outdated and in need of a complete overhaul,” said Powell Police Chief Tim Feathers.

Feathers knew the system eventually would have to be switched from analog to digital.

“We knew there would be mandates coming down from the state that we'd have to comply with,” he said.

Feathers and others in the city began discussing a new system more than 10 years ago.

“In the midst of all (the planning), 9/11 happened,” Feathers said.

Reports out of the 9/11 attacks showed communication problems among emergency personnel — police, fire and other public departments, Feathers said.

After seeing the importance of communication in a large-scale emergency, the federal government began making money available for entities to improve their dispatch centers, Feathers said.

“Things really came together for us then,” he said. “The money was available and the state was very supportive.”

Funding for Powell's new dispatch system — including everything from portable radios to a new tower —was provided through grants.

The final price tag was $738,934, said Feathers.

“That included the construction and purchase of a new tower, all new central electronic equipment, new radio consoles, mobile radios for fleets, dispatch upgrades,” Feathers said. “The whole enchilada.”

The Wyoming Department of Homeland Security, WyoLink, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State Loan and Investment Board provided grants for the project.

Thorington was an integral part of the process, from securing grants to finalizing details for the new system, Feathers said.

“Zack saved the city $200,000,” he said.

Feathers called the project “highly technical and complex,” adding that without Thorington, no city personnel would have been able to handle such an undertaking.

The city likely would have hired an outside project manager.

Thorington also kept close tabs on the project, working with Motorola engineers to make sure specifications were met.

“We didn't have to hire a project manager, and all the city's interests were met,” Feathers said. “We had someone saying, ‘No, this is what we need,' and making sure we got that.”

An advantage of WyoLink is that it creates “talk groups,” similar to channels that allow different organizations to communicate with one another. For example, if there is an emergency in the Big Horn Basin that requires communication with state officials in Cheyenne, they can key up to a Powell talk group.

“No matter where someone is in the state, they can communicate on these talk groups,” said Martin McCoy, WyoLink support manager in Cheyenne.

The system will recognize the identification of everyone on the talk groups.

“Where it becomes functional is in a major event or emergency,” Feathers said. “A quick program function allows us to take a radio, attach it to the talk group and we have instant communication with everyone on that talk group.”

Since July, the city has not experienced any major complications with the new equipment, Thorington said.

“I was surprised,” Thorington said. “We didn't have any major issues — nothing out of the ordinary.”

Right now, the system is operating in conventional mode until the state WyoLink system is finished.

“It meets all our needs,” Feathers said. “It's designed to be able to handle high volume, even in conventional mode.”

Thorington said the new system has provided the Powell with new features, including the capability to receive both analog and digital signals.

“We have capabilities we never dreamed of,” Thorington said.

Thorington said another new ability is to encrypt dialogue over the scanner. Prior to the new equipment, everything could be heard in “scanner land,” as Thorington calls it. Now, officers and dispatchers can have secured communication that is closed off to outside listeners.

Powell's updated system also is capable of overtaking the traffic of Cody's dispatch center if something were to happen to its system.

“If it goes down, we can pick up the entire capacity,” Feathers said.

Feathers said he is pleased with the new system.

“The reception is better, the quality is better, the range is better,” Feathers said.