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Regional Communications System

County of San Diego, California, May 2000


The Regional Communications System (RCS) Project involved the construction of public safety, public service wireless radio communication networks that provide the primary communication links for 163 local, county and state governmental agencies throughout the 4,500 square mile County of San Diego. The 43 networked radio repeater sites use over 150, 800 MHz frequencies and provide more than 97% coverage of the roadway network for 12,00 current users. Users include most of the fire, law, EMS and public works departments in San Diego County. The RCS planning began in 1992 with the support of the County Board of Supervisors. Project implementation began in 1995. While the County has underwritten the cost of the network, participating jurisdictions and agencies contributed a portion of the total cost. User agencies also share the annual network operating costs. The Board of Supervisors has delegated administration of the RCS to a Board of Directors comprised primarily of top law and fire service administrators from throughout the county. County staff manages RCS operations. The County of Imperial also is a participant in the RCS and is building additional repeater sites for their user agencies. The added sites will expand the RCS sphere of influence to about 10,000 square miles, supporting over 191 agencies along 185 miles of the international border with Mexico between the Pacific Ocean and the Arizona border.


Operational Issues

The multiple, previous public safety communications systems in San Diego and Imperial Counties (VHF, UHF, 800 MHz) did not effectively serve emergency response needs. Most used 1970’s technology, were nearing obsolescence, experiencing increasing failure, provided inadequate coverage and were not interoperable. The lack of interoperability hindered effective mutual aid operations.

The cost of building and maintaining wireless communications systems is high. Existing commercial systems cannot meet key public safety requirements of (1) priority access, and (2) effective coverage. Frequently, public safety users must have first priority in accessing a radio frequency. Waiting in a radio queue while routine business is being conducted could cause unnecessary loss of life or property. Commercial radio systems have yet to offer priority access and thus were not a viable choice for agencies with a life saving mission.

Additionally, governments need wireless coverage in remote areas of their jurisdictions to support necessary public services such as firefighting, emergency medical response, search and rescue, and drug interdiction. Commercial radio systems available in the Southern California region did not offer the coverage needed in remote areas because of the limited return on the needed investment.

Furthermore, the older existing systems had no remaining capacity and there was little or no ability to add frequencies. Governments must also compete with commercial enterprises for radio frequencies, making frequencies a valuable resource. The use of radio frequencies in Southern California is further complicated by the fact that Mexican users are in competition for the same frequencies, yet utilize their own licensing process, which is frequently at odds with the Federal Communications Commission.

The County of San Diego was obligated to improve public safety communications for the county public safety departments, just as the other jurisdictions in the region were responsible for improving their public safety communications.


The Regional Communications System Advantage

The primary RCS goal is to provide seamless, wireless communications for governmental public safety/service agencies throughout San Diego and Imperial County. The RCS vision was developed in 1992, jurisdictions committed to costs to build the system by 1995, and system construction began in 1996. By mid-1999, most public safety/service personnel serving nearly 3 million people in the two counties will be using the RCS or an existing compatible wireless communication system. "Compatibility" or "Interoperability" means public safety providers from different disciplines and agencies will be able to talk readily with each other to coordinate effective responses, resulting in saving lives and property.

The County of San Diego took the lead in drafting an acceptable RCS Participating Agency Agreement, which was ultimately ratified by each governing body. County staff also assumed project management responsibility, negotiated contracts with vendors and provided training to each of the participant agencies.

Following is a list of departments/agencies/companies in San Diego County only who are currently RCS customers or who have agreed to become RCS customers in the near future. Departments in Imperial County (28, plus a dispatch center) have not been included. There are also six dispatch centers on the RCS in San Diego County.


Regional Communications System
Participating Agencies as of December 1999
(*Transistion not complete or not started)



City of Carlsbad
1. Fire/EMS
2. Law
3. Lifeguard
4. Public Works
City of Coronado
5. *Fire/EMS
6. *Law
7. *Lifeguard
8. *Public Services
9. *Recreation
City of Del Mar
10. Fire/EMS
11. Law
12. Lifeguard
13. Public Works
City of El Cajon
14. Fire/EMS
15. Law
16. Public Works
City of Encinitas
17. Fire/EMS
18. Law
19. Lifeguard
20. Public Works
City of Imperial Beach
21. Fire/EMS
22. Law
23. Public Works
City of Lemon Grove
24. Fire/EMS
25. Law
26. Public Works
City of Poway
27. Fire/EMS
28. Law
29. Public Works
City of San Marcos
30. Fire/EMS
31. Law
32. Public Works
City of Santee
33. Fire/EMS
34. Law
35. Public Works
36. Padre Dam
City of Solana Beach
36. Fire/EMS
37. Law
38. Lifeguards
39. Public Works
City of Vista
40. Law
41. Fire/EMS
42. Public Works
43. Alpine Fire
44. Bonita-Sunnyside Fire
45. Borrego Springs Fire
46. Boulevard Fire
47. Campo Fire
48. Deer Springs Fire Prot. District
49. East County Fire
50. Elfin Forest Fire
51. Intermountain Fire
52. Lakeside Fire
53. Mt. Laguna Fire
54. North County Fire
55. Ocotillo Wells Fire
56. Palomar Mountain Fire
57. Pine Valley Fire
58. Ramona Fire
59. Ranchita Fire
60. Rancho Santa Fe Fire
61. San Miguel Fire
62. San Pasqual Fire
63. Shelter Valley Fire
64. Sunshine Summit Fire
65. Warner Springs Fire
66. Vista Fire Prot. District
County Departments
66. Agriculture
67. Animal Control
68. Disaster Preparedness
69. District Attorney
70. EMS (CSA 17)
71. General Services
72. Health Services
73. Information Services
74. Marshal
75. Medical Examiner
76. Parks & Recreation
77. Planning & Land Use
78. Probation
79. Public Works
80. Sheriff's Department
81. Alvarado Hospital
82. American Medical Response
83. American Ambulance
84. Balboa Ambulance
85. Balboa Naval Hospital
86. Barona Ambulance
87. Blood Bank
88. Bowers Ambulance
89. Care Ambulance
90. Cabrillo Hospital
91. Children's Hospital
92. Coronado Hospital
93. Event Medical
94. Fallbrook Hospital
95. Grossmont Hospital
96. Kaiser Hospital
97. Mission Bay Hospital
98. Naval Medical-Pendleton
99. Palomar Medical Center
100. Paradise Valley Hospital
101. Pomerado Hospital
102. Priority One
103. Schaefer Ambulance
101. Scripps Chula Vista
102. Scripps East
103. Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas
104. Scripps La Jolla
105. Sharps Chula Vista
106. Sharps Memorial
107. Sycuan Ambulance
108. Thornton Hospital
109. Tri City Medical Center
110. UCSD Medical Center
111. VA Hospital
112. Bureau of Land Management
113. *California State Parole
113. CALTRANS, District 11
114. CDF (partial involvement)
115. Heritage Security
116. *Grossmont College Police
117. North County Transit Trolley Security
118. Olivenhain Water District
119. Rancho Santa Fe Patrol
120. San Diego Humane Society
121. SDG&E Watershed Team
122. University of San Diego Police
123. Cajon Valley School District
124. Grossmont School District
125. Poway Unified School District
126. Vista Unified School District
127. City News Service
128. Jacor Communications
129. KFMB
130. KGTV
131. KNSD
132. North County Times
133. Union Tribune
134. XETV


Regional Communications System
Participating Agencies as of December 1999


Mutual Aid Agencies

 Agencies Interface with
1. Air National Guard County EMS
2. Camp Pendleton Fire County EMS and Ranch Santa Fe Fire
3. Escondido Fire County EMS
4. INS County EMS and All RCS Fire and Law Agencies
5. Mirarmar Fire County EMS
6. La Mesa Fire County EMS
7. Law Mesa Law County Sheriff
8. National City Fire County EMS
9. National City Law County Sheriff
10. Oceanside Fire County EMS and Rancho Santa Fe Fire
11. City of San Diego County EMS and All RCS Fire and Law Agencies



Dispatch Centers

 2. Carlsbad Dispatch
 3. Coronado Dispatch Center
 4. El Cajon Dispatch Center
 5. Heartland Communications Facility Authority
 6. Monte Vista CDF Dispatch
 7. County Sheriff's Dispatch Center
 8. Rancho Santa Fe Dispatch


The new system features the replacement of existing microwave systems, installation of 43 communication sites and the use of over 150, 800 MHz frequency pairs. The 800 MHz frequency spectrum was utilized because frequencies were no longer available in other frequency bands. Agencies with licenses for 800 MHz frequencies contributed them to the pool of available frequencies for shared RCS use throughout the two county area. This concept of sharing limited frequency resources is a primary reason why the RCS has proven successful. The resulting system has the capacity to accommodate 13,000 users and includes 97 percent coverage of the roadway network throughout San Diego County.

The system provides both voice and data radio communications on separate networks. The RCS voice network uses Motorola's SmartZone 800 MHz trunked, simulcast radio technology. It supports mixed mode analog and digital communications, including encrypted capabilities. The RCS data network uses Motorola's 19.2 RD-LAP protocol and will currently support over 3,000 data users, with significant expansion capability. The data network will support various data applications such as unit-to-unit messaging, GPS based Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL), Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), and inquiries to local and national crime databases like the California Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (CLETS) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Participants share the annual RCS operating costs equally. These costs are expressed as per radio, per month charges. Beginning in July 1999, participants will receive a monthly invoice for their operating costs, based on the actual number of their radios that used the RCS the previous month. The RCS Board of Directors reviews the annual budget request and sets the monthly operating charge each January.



Departments and jurisdictions that in the past only had coverage that was limited to their immediate jurisdiction now can operate throughout the County while still being under the direction and control of their communication center. Continued petitioning for membership has proved the effectiveness of the system by agencies within San Diego County. At this writing, only three Cities of the nineteen cities within the county have not yet joined the RCS. Therefore, interoperability and inter-agency cooperation are at an all time high.

The RCS provides a model for cooperation in creation of large-scale communications systems. This model is multi-county in its current network structure. The network is easily modified to provide a statewide communications system by linking multi-county networks into a virtual communications internet.

For additional information please contact:


Chris Hinshaw
CO San Diego Wireless Services
555 Overland Ave. Bldg. 12
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 694-3663