AL first responders warn county of outdated radio system

OXFORD, AL – It has been decades since Calhoun County’s police, fire departments, and emergency medical personnel used more than one radio to communicate. Now the local leaders have to find the money to keep it that way.

“The peak of the collaboration is police, fire, and ambulance communications, and we in Calhoun County have enjoyed it for most of the careers in that room,” said Kevin Jenkins, director of the county’s 9-1-1 service, during one Meeting of executives from first-response agencies, cities and the district government was held on Wednesday at the city’s civic center.

“Most people don’t remember what it was like … when the sheriff’s department was on VHF, Weaver was on another VHF, Anniston on another VHF … and then you have four radios in a car, one for in whatever band everyone else is playing. “

But now the system is out of date and Motorola, which is providing the service, will no longer support Calhoun County’s current wireless technology.

Even after negotiating with the company, Jenkins said, it will cost about $ 6.2 million to update the system and keep the radios working unless further discounts are granted.

Jenkins spoke to remind those gathered – including Fire and Police Leaders from Anniston, Oxford, Jacksonville, Weaver, and Jacksonville State Universities, as well as representatives from the County Commission and the County 9-1-1 Board – of the importance of the statewide P25 radio system. which enables these agencies and several other local organizations to communicate at the push of a button. The simplicity and compatibility saved lives, he explained.

“If someone shoots you, you can’t have four handheld devices,” Jenkins said.

Costs vary depending on usage

The Wednesday meeting, hosted by the county’s 9-1-1 board, gave heads of state agencies and local governments a chance to see a breakdown of usage of the service and equipment. It was also a chance for the 9-1-1 board to sense answers. With no everyone on board to advocate upgrades, the system will likely simply have to be abandoned if the equipment fails.

“Equipment cannot be replaced as we are currently doing,” said Brad Campbell, 9-1-1 assistant manager. If a critical device fails, a replacement is no longer required. “That’s when we start switching channels off.”

The amount the county commission and each parish would pay depends on usage. According to Gary Sparks, chairman of the 9-1-1 board of directors and chief fire officer of Oxford, the Calhoun County government and Oxford together account for about 54 percent of all radio usage.

Calhoun County, which includes the sheriff’s office, highway agency, and emergency management agency, uses 475 of the 1,918 devices attached to the wireless network (most are handheld radios). Oxford makes up 406 of the devices.

Other agencies have far fewer units. Anniston City Services use 196 units, Jacksonville 132, JSU 38, and Weaver 55.

Any business with fewer than 25 users, Jenkins said, is simply supported by the majority of users. These agencies include Piedmontese first responders, volunteer fire departments, the Regional Medical Center, and a handful of others.

Jenkins prepared several variations of the division between the cities and the county. One included for-profit corporations as contributors to the service. Another does not but does include the county and Oxford education authorities, both of which use the radio system for their school buses.

The two most likely options, one that includes for-profit companies and another that excludes them along with education authorities, would split the payments like this:

  • County Commission, about $ 2.28 million
  • Oxford, about $ 1.95 million
  • Anniston, $ 944,676
  • Jacksonville, $ 636,210
  • Weber, $ 265,087
  • JSU, $ 183,151

When asked about cities and counties setting up their own systems, Sparks said Oxford Police Chief Bill Partridge looked at the cost of building an independent radio network for the city a few years ago and reports it is around 6 or would cost $ 7 million while losing interoperability between agencies. That system would also need upgrades, Sparks said.

In the meantime, installing additional antennas would be prohibitively expensive, Jenkins said, even if the current communication towers are used in places like Blue Mountain.

“You’d have to top up the towers to support additional antennas if you had to build systems for every city and agency,” he said.

Someday a better solution

Representatives from Noble Bank, Farmers and Merchants, and Southern States all attended the meeting, saying the county’s 9-1-1 service would be the signatory of a single loan. Participants would make payments to the 9-1-1 board, which in turn would repay the banks.

At the end of the meeting, the congregation agreed to pass the numbers on to their leaders, be it a city council, district commission, or university president, and report to another meeting on July 29 at the Civic Center.

However, several participants said that the current action will only be a stopgap solution and that further upgrades will eventually be required.

Weber’s Mayor Wayne Willis was quick to express his support for maintaining the radio system. “We have to be there, we know that. The only question is how we finance it when the time comes,” he said. However, Willis also pointed to the likelihood that other agencies will face the same problems as Calhoun County, more than once.

“It is obviously not a problem that will only be ours,” said Willis, who is also a former police officer.

According to his argument, a more permanent solution must be decided at the state level that ensures payments for the system for decades to come.

Sparks agreed, but said previous proposals to lawmakers based on property taxes had been rejected. He hopes for a more permanent solution in 2023.

In the short term, however, he said that it was a necessity to keep the radio system alive.

“We need to be able to come together, take the bullet and fix the problem today,” said Sparks, “before we have an incident where our system goes down while law enforcement officers are dealing with an active shooting situation, or we’re in the middle of a tornado reaction. “

___

(c) 2021 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.)

Visit The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) At www.annistonstar.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Comments are closed.