A new public safety communications system will benefit first responders such as police and firefighters while costing less than previously estimated thanks to a competitive bidding process, Premier Brian Pallister said at an announcement at Thompson’s RCMP detachment Aug. 8.
Bell Mobility was awarded the $380-million contract to replace the outdated FleetNet system used by fire, ambulance and police services as well as the VHF radio system operated by Sustainable Development conservation officers and firefighting crews.
“Practically speaking, right now RCMP personnel could be up in Tadoule Lake and they’re out of cell service and they’re out of luck,” said Pallister. “With the new system that were going to have we’ll equip people, in particular in northern communities, to be better connected as they go about their work. Put yourself in the position of a firefighter or a police person that’s going out to work in the midst of the chaos of a disaster where every second counts, where every connection matters, and to be able to have that interoperability where you can talk to each other is really critical and this will enhance that ability. Sadly, disasters happen and we know that. This will save lives.”
Bell MTS Western Canada vice-chair Dan McKeen said the FleetNet system is the oldest in North America and the new system will be a technological leap forward.
“The biggest difference is it’s new,” he said. “What we’re driving now is like a 1962 vehicle and so it performs like a 1962 vehicle. It needs to be repaired a lot, it costs a lot in parts, it doesn’t have the performance that the new one will have. It’ll have better range, it’ll have better clarity and most importantly it’ll have interoperability with other agencies.”
While the new system will be phased in in different parts of the province at different times over the next three years, McKeen said the radios are backwards compatible so that the old system and new system can work together until everybody is equipped with new radios. He also said that Bell Mobility has the experience to do the job, having installed these systems in three other provinces.
Pallister said the FleetNet system has needed to be replaced for a long time but that the previous NDP government didn’t make it a priority.
“Our government feels that Manitobans value the safety of their security personnel and one another as one of the highest values they hold so for us to kick this can down the road wasn’t happening,” he said, noting that they saved $40 million from what the NDP had been willing to spend by awarding the contract through a competitive bidding process.
The users of the system are eager to see the new one in place, said McKeen, saying RCMP officers at the announcement were asking him, “When do I get my radio that works better, that I can hear better, that helps me do my job better because that’s what they’re interested in.”