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SHERIDAN — The Public Safety Communications Commission for the State of Wyoming met in Sheridan Wednesday — a fitting day for a group dedicated to fostering communication between local, county, state and federal health and safety departments.
With the memory of 9/11 at the forefront of many minds, particularly for the Commission the lack of communication ability between safety agencies that responded on 9/11, the group’s mission to provide statewide operable and interoperable communications held extra weight, PSCC Administrative Support Bob Symons said.
The PSCC was created by the state legislature in 2004. In 2005, the state began constructing core sites — typically a shelter with electronics communication equipment, a backup power generator, a tower and antennae — for WyoLink, Wyoming’s statewide digital trunked radio system. A digital trunked system allows a large group of users to share relatively few radio frequency channels. A cell phone is a digital trunked system, Symons said.
There are now 67 WyoLink sites around the state, with two more coming this year. Approximately 16,000 radios can use the shared radio system, and 112 agencies have moved their operations to WyoLink.
“Once the sites are all completed, we will have 95 to 96 percent coverage across state. A person in Sheridan can talk to a person in Casper, if they need to.
And, ‘if they need to’ is always the key words here. That’s the interoperability,” Symons said.
While WyoLink primarily uses mobile, in-car radios, it can install enhancement sites for portable, handheld radios. Sheridan has an enhancement site at its water tower on East Fifth Street. Core sites for WyoLink in the area are located at Banner Ridge, Duncan Lake by Burgess Junction and east of Sheridan County at Chicken Creek in Campbell County.
Local users include the Sheridan Police Department, Sheridan County Sheriff, a couple school districts, campus security at Sheridan College and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The Highway Patrol, highway department, division of criminal investigations, state parks, livestock board, Bureau of Land Management and other state and federal agencies with a presence in Sheridan also use the system. The Sheridan Fire-Rescue Department is working towards augmenting its system with WyoLink.
The highlight of Wednesday’s meeting was discussion about the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s WyoLink budget.
“Money for the development, operation and maintenance of WyoLink goes through the Wyoming Department of Transportation. It is part of their budget. The PSCC, by statute, is the oversight of the WyoLink project. Working together with WYDOT is real important on the budget,” Symons said.
“The PSCC represents the users, WYDOT represents the operations and maintenance. We go hand-in-hand.”
Since its inception, WyoLink has been an exception budget item, which means WYDOT must request WyoLink’s entire annual budget each year from the legislature, making it appear that it is asking for more money every year.
“We’re having success trying to establish the need for an ongoing budget,” WYDOT Budget Officer Kevin Hibbard said.
If WyoLink was part of the standard budget, its ongoing hardware and software costs would be funded each year, dispelling the misbelief that they are one-time needs, Hibbard said. With its standard budget needs covered, WyoLink could then request exception budget items such as additional towers and upgrades to the system.
The standard budget request for WyoLink will be approximately $3.2 million. After fiscal year 2015-2016, the standard budget is estimated to be approximately $5.6 million, Hibbard said. The total budget request for the PSCC will remain approximately the same as last year at $215,500.
In other business, the PSCC made a motion to request that the Department of Homeland Security make the position of Administrative Support for the PSCC a permanent position. Commissioners also discussed membership applications and working group appointments for commissioners. The next meeting of the PSCC will be held in Cheyenne in December.