February 25, 2022 by Dominick Arcuri, Subject Matter Expert
Traditionally, most fire departments have used conventional VHF paging systems to notify and dispatch volunteer firefighters and provide fire-station alerting for full or part-time personnel at a fire station. While many public safety agencies have transitioned their public safety voice communications systems to state-of-the-art trunked radio networks, they have maintained at least a portion of their legacy systems to support paging and fire-station alerting due to the lack of cost-effective alternatives providing similar features and functionality. However, in recent years, paging over a trunked network is becoming increasingly popular.
Most volunteer fire-fighters have grown accustomed to analog tone and voice pagers that have been in use since the 1970’s. While not modern or sophisticated, they provide the basic functionality of providing an alert tone, followed by a voice message giving first responders details on the type and location of an emergency call for service. This method has generally been effective but requires the use of increasingly dated analog technology and potentially equipment that is no longer supported by the original manufacturer. There are some alternative digitally-based paging systems that can receive and display the message, but in many cases, first responders prefer the tone and voice functionality, as it lets them listen to the voice message and subsequent communications about the event while driving and without having to focus on a device.
Recently, paging over a trunked Project 25 (P25) radio network has become an option, and it is gaining popularity because it can provide the same tone and voice functionality of traditional pagers, and paging alerts are broadcast over the same modern communications network used for other voice communications. This approach uses a paging receiver that is very similar in size, form factor, and functionality as traditional devices, yet it operates in a digital mode. Instead of transmitting a tone over the air like a legacy paging system, the trunked pager creates and emits the tone whenever the specified talkgroup is activated on the system. The voice message is then recorded and played immediately following the tone. Operating in this manner, the trunked pager functions very much like traditional pagers that it replaces, and the cost of these units is generally comparable to analog pagers.
At dispatch, a unique paging group for each fire department appears on the dispatch operators screen and can be easily selected and activated by the operator. Additionally, from a dispatch perspective, trunked paging provides an advantage when multiple departments need to be notified of an incident. Using traditional paging networks, if multiple departments need to be notified, the different tones have to be transmitted sequentially, which delays the response by some departments. However, with trunked paging, multiple departments can be selected and alerted simultaneously, without requiring sequential tones to be transmitted.
Another advantage of trunked paging is that the paging operation occurs over a highly reliable trunked network. These trunked networks are typically built to public safety grade standards and have multiple levels of system redundancy. Therefore, the systems are designed to continue to operate even if they experience some component or connectivity failures. For example, if an agency experienced a radio console system failure or connectivity interruption, control stations or portable radios could be used to activate the paging talkgroups and transmit the page.
The trunked pager devices are fully functional receivers and can be used to monitor other talkgroups in use on the system, as well as conventional mutual aid or interoperability channels. However, it should be noted that the talkgroup used for paging a given department should not be the same talkgroup used for subsequent radio communications between public safety personnel. In traditional analog networks, many times the VHF channel used for paging is also the same channel used for fire communications. Therefore, once the first responders are paged, they can leave their pager on the same channel to listen to subsequent voice traffic. However, in a trunked paging environment, one talkgroup should be used for paging and a different talkgroup used for agency communications. Therefore, once a first responder gets paged and hears the initial voice message, they will likely want to change their device to a different talkgroup in order to hear other voice traffic. This results in a somewhat different operational process that the user must get accustomed to performing.
Televate has assisted a number of agencies evaluate their paging networks and successfully transition from legacy analog paging networks to digital trunked paging. There are typical cost savings associated with eliminating the separate paging system and consolidating radio and paging communications onto a common network. Importantly, the consolidated radio and paging systems simplify the notification and dispatch process and result in more efficient operational benefits. If you think your agency may benefit from trunked paging, please contact us for an evaluation.