To say Redwood County is ARMERed, might give one the impression it has purchased protective equipment to stand up against attack from outside forces.
While the new ARMER system in the county does not offer the kind of security one might imagine, it is providing another levy of security for its residents.
As of Jan. 1 Redwood County officially became part of the statewide program known as the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) system.
According to Randy Hanson, Redwood County sheriff, the new communication system was initiated and driven by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and over time more and more personnel, including those communicating during emergencies were added.
The state began working on the ARMER project in 2002, and Jim Sandgren, Redwood County emergency management director, said the county began serious discussion about it in 2007.
The state legislature decided to implement the ARMER system statewide using 911 funding to help cover the costs of implementing the communication system.
As the project developed the state was divided into six regions, and Redwood County was included in the southwest region.
That region created its own radio board that worked together as the process of implementing ARMER continued, with that board including different representatives such as county commissioners, law enforcement and emergency management leaders.
The idea, said Hanson, is to create what is known as interoperability, which provides the capacity for all emergency personnel to communicate from one part of the state to another.
There are 324 tower sites in the state, and Redwood County is specifically utilizing three towers in the area, including existing towers in Morton and Wanda. A new tower was erected near Vesta.
The ARMER system was supposed to be implemented by January 2013 in all of the counties which planned to participate, and with the exception of approximately 10 counties which are still working toward implementation and seven which opted not to participate (all non-participants are in northwest Minnesota), the counties are up and running.
Sandgren said the ARMER system operates similarly to a cell phone system, as communication continues as one moves from one location to another through the linking of towers.
“The range is statewide,” said Sandgren.
The county used its own 911 funds to help cover some of the costs of the project, with state and federal grants also used to cover some of the costs.
Although not all of the county’s expenses have been paid, Hanson said it looks as if the project is going to be under budget.
The county opted to purchase the new portable units for the entire county, including fire departments, emergency management services (i.e. ambulance and first responder groups), hospitals and public works.
While the ARMER system is still a work in progress, Hanson and Sandgren both said they have already seen the benefit of the system as it helps better coordinate dispatch services and allows for better countywide communication to ensure the best service for residents.