It was 1991 when Massachusetts began work on its first statewide public-safety radio communications system. Today, the system delivers portable, in-street coverage to approximately 95 percent of eastern Massachusetts. By the year 2000, the system should be operational statewide.

Massachusetts was among the first states to help create what has become the model for statewide communications systems, and we at the Massachusetts State Police and similar state agencies believe we have made three important contributions to developing this model:

* It is possible to create interoperable communications without necessarily starting from scratch.

* It is possible to build support for the system across many political administrations and among different agencies with changing needs.

* These systems can be funded to the level they require by applying a mixture of creativity, smart timing and good planning.

Build on What Exists

When we began working on the system, we realized that many of the required resources for the new system were already in place. We also knew making good use of these resources would help to impress legislators we needed to win over for funding, which would make achieving an interoperable statewide system a lot easier.

One existing resource was the radio system used by Boston's Metropolitan Police. In 1987, the Metropolitan Police bought a Motorola 800MHz trunked simulcast communications system. The system included three sites, 20 channels and cost about $5 million. Over the next few years, the system performed so well that many area agencies began to share the system infrastructure.

The success of the Metropolitan Police system did not go unnoticed by state officials in Boston. Thinking other agencies might consider moving to similar systems in the future, the state began securing 800MHz spectrum as part of its long-term communications strategy. The state was particularly interested in 806MHz frequencies because of the 70-mile coverage radius. Many believed the large coverage area might help control future communications system costs.

System design began in 1993, and implementation started in 1994. We decided to install the system in phases to make the entire transition gradual and to work within available funding.

We began statewide system implementation with the Metropolitan Police. Then, we installed portions of the system for troops serving the state's northeastern and southeastern shores and the infrastructure for Barnstable County (Cape Cod). Today, the system numbers 22 sites and 41 channels, including system coverage in Boston's Ted Williams Tunnel.

System design has begun for the troops that cover the central portion of the state; it will be extended to the troops that cover the western portion of the state, including the Berkshires, in about 24 months.

The statewide system uses Motorola's sophisticated SmartZone trunked technology. We can operate the system in either digital or analog modes -- a real plus since our current mobile and portable radios operate in analog mode. We plan to implement digital modulation radios in the near future for those functions requiring secure communications.

We manage the entire system from State Police headquarters in Framingham. A SmartZone switch enables field personnel to roam throughout the state without losing communications with any agency on the system. The system handles all the radio "handoffs" from one antenna site to another automatically.

All voice communications are managed from Motorola CENTRACOM 2 Plus consoles. Presently, we have five consoles at State Police headquarters in Framingham, three in Middleboro to handle Cape Cod and Southeast Massachusetts, and two for the Metropolitan Police in Boston. Eventually, we will add regional dispatch centers and consoles in the central and western portions of the state.

Site sharing enabled us to limit new site acquisition and construction -- a substantial environmental benefit. We share many antenna sites with Cellular One and Bell Atlantic. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management also has provided space on fire

towers in state parks.