Mich. police keep tabs on radio gear

By fall, the Michigan State Police's new communications system will provide radio coverage for 97 percent of the state. Still, maintaining the 181 tower sites scattered statewide, along with several thousand portable and mobile radios, is no easy task.

But technicians who once jotted down assignments from a white board now download work orders on their computers and handheld devices.

Software developed by Greenville, S.C.-based Datastream Systems Inc., an assets management company, enables the state police's communications division to track these assets, manage work assignments and other maintenance tasks, keep a repair history for their equipment, and build in reminders and warranty information.

Currently, the state police's communications division (www.mpscs.com) tracks about 35,000 pieces of equipment, including more than 9,000 portable and mobile radios. When the project is completed, the database will have upwards of 200,000 pieces of equipment, said Brad Stoddard, the division's wireless data services manager.

The software, he said, permits for better scheduling, improved business practices and more focus on preventative maintenance — resulting in reduced costs. But it's also important for the communications system to be continually operational in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Stoddard added.

"Using asset management gives us an idea of how we're maintaining our statewide communication system while at the same time performing preventative maintenance," he said. "In contrast, with the old system, we were waiting until a fire erupted [then] we put the fire out."

The state began replacing its 50-year-old radio system with the new $200 million communication network in the mid-1990s. The state police began using the Datastream 7i product in 1998 in a pilot with only two field service workers using a desktop computer and printing out work orders, Stoddard said. Slowly, they switched to using handheld devices.

Field workers usually download work orders on their handheld devices and then go on the road for four to five days, Stoddard said. They complete reports on those devices then sink it back into the mainframe system when they return to their offices.

He said they tracked every aspect of their day-to-day business, including inventory on hand, equipment maintenance and associated costs. The data is used to justify their budgets, he added.

The system is in use at other state police divisions, including the management services and motor carrier divisions.

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