RUPD using digital radios

Rice University Police Department (RUPD) switched to digital two-way radios Sept. 9 to improve communication not just across campus but also with Houston’s police and fire departments.

Seventy digital radios, including portable handheld models and mobile units for patrol cars, were issued to RUPD, Rice EMS and Environmental Health and Safety personnel. The radios operate on the 700 megahertz band reserved for public safety communication.

“This new system enhances the safety of our officers and the campus overall,” said Chief of Police Johnny Whitehead. “We also upgraded the software on our dispatch console, which has the ability to patch our digital radios to any of the approximately 400 radios used by various departments on campus as well as to HPD and HFD.”

Rice Chief of Police Johnny Whitehead shows one of the new digital radios to Tonica Weathers, police telecommunicator supervisor, by the upgraded dispatch console.

Whitehead said that RUPD’s old radios had problems with scratchy transmissions, dead spots on campus and no transmission when patrol cars transported criminals off campus to jail or the detention center.

Two years ago Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby provided funding to hire a consultant to do a study of two-way radio communication on campus. The consultant recommended that instead of RUPD building its own new infrastructure from scratch, it would be significantly less costly and more efficient to join the city of Houston’s new digital communication system. The 700-mhz radios that are compatible with the city’s system could be purchased at a significant discount.

William Deigaard, director of networking, telecommunications and data centers for Information Technology (IT), said subscribing to the city’s digital system gave RUPD geographic coverage “that Rice could never replicate on its own.”

“Under the old system, you could listen to one radio channel,” he said. “Now we can talk to all radio users across campus simultaneously as well as to HPD and HFD, and we can record those transmissions with better sound quality.”

“One of the biggest benefit’s is the ability to communicate when off campus,” said Keith Kostelecky, telecommunications manager for IT. He noted that if Rice police officers are pursuing a criminal fleeing from campus, they will not lose live radio contact, and will also be able to communicate/coordinate with neighboring police agencies.

IT had to install two lightning-protected antennas on top of the BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) to support the new system and to provide a backup in case of power outages, and integration between the system components utilize Rice’s existing fiber optic cabling.

Whitehead said the Houston Police Department installed some signal boosters of its own in the underground parking garages at the BRC and Jones School and in the basement of Brockman Hall to eliminate some signal dead spots it encountered when conducting tests throughout the city. “HPD is required to have a minimum of 98 percent coverage across the city,” he said.

Other departments on campus that use two-way radios, such as Facilities Engineering and Planning, Housing and Dining and Transportation, will continue to use nondigital radios, but the upgraded dispatch console at RUPD has the ability to patch them through to the digital radios.

Whitehead said other nearby police groups, like West University Police and the University of Texas Police in the Texas Medical Center, have also subscribed to the city’s digital communication system, and RUPD is in the process of working out agreements that will enable RUPD to patch into their communications also.

Rice Captain Clemente Rodriguez said Rice officers received training on how to use the new radios, and the switchover to the new system was easy. “It was like business as usual when we began using the digital radios,” he said.

One important feature of the new digital radios is an orange panic button that officers can press in case of an emergency. If such a signal is sent, the dispatcher can quickly determine which radio it came from and the location.

“We hope it’s a button we never have to use,” Rodriguez said.

In addition to Whitehead, Rodriguez, Deigaard and Kostelecky, the radio project team that oversaw the conversion to the digital system included Bob Nguyen, project manager for FE&P.



About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.