The Ontario government recently announced a $765-million agreement to rebuild some of the core components of the province's aging Public Safety Radio Network (PSRN).
Bell Mobility was selected to help reconstruct important infrastructure, replace outdated equipment and maintain the new network for a period of 15 years.
The PSRN is vital because Ontario's frontline workers use the network to communicate with dispatchers and each other when responding to emergencies.
Radio allows direct communication from individual to individual with the push of a button. This immediate connection helps coordinate first response. Radio communications technology also allows for greater coverage than is available through cell services.
Premier Doug Ford called the project a key step forward in the province's commitment to support frontline and emergency responders across the province.
“In a crisis, every second counts,” he said. “Replacing our aging emergency radio network is not only vital to public safety, it's long overdue.”
The PSRN was last replaced in 1998. The existing network does not meet the North American open standard for public safety radio set in 2001.
The network needs replacement because of frequent service outages, lack of compatibility with other networks, and obsolete equipment. The current radio network also does not protect personal information. Critical information related to police activity or personal health is broadcast over the current radio network unencrypted.
More than 38,000 first responders and frontline workers, including OPP officers, paramedics and hospital staff, forest fire services, provincial highway maintenance staff, as well as parks, enforcement and correctional officers, rely on the PSRN to respond to emergencies.
The modernization project will repair the network's core infrastructure in addition to antennas, servers and data centre equipment which will ensure essential radio coverage across the province.
First responders and dispatchers will receive state-of-the-art radio equipment and consoles to enable quick and effective responses in emergency situations.
“Ontario relies on one of North America's largest and most complex public safety radio networks to protect people in the face of emergencies,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.
“By rehabilitating and advancing the province's radio network, we can improve connectivity and prevent daily service outages that obstruct frontline and emergency responders and put public safety at risk.”
The PSRN is especially important to emergency services in Northern Ontario, where responders face challenges like rugged terrain and isolated communities.
The network covers approximately 750,000 km squared and features 193 radio towers that serve as main infrastructure. 282 additional towers support forest firefighters, Ontario parks, and far North communities.
Transition to the new network will begin in 2021 and is targeted to be fully operational by June 2023. A total of six different procurements are being carried out to support this project.
“Bell looks forward to providing the Government of Ontario with the next generation of public safety communications technology,” said Gary Semplonius, Bell's senior vice-president.
“Together, we will equip first responders and other frontline personnel with the advanced communications tools they need to perform their critical role in protecting the safety of Ontarians.”