911 Advisory Board hears radio, call system updates

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By Stephanie Johns
Staff Writer

On July 11, members of the 911 Advisory Board discussed a new radio system that may cost less than the $4 or $5 million it would cost to replace the whole system.

In a later interview, Bill Crew, Morgan County 911 communications supervisor, said he does not yet have an estimate as to the total cost for this alternative radio solution: “It’ll definitely be less … a good bit less.”

During the March work session for the Morgan County Commission commissioners heard a report on the county-wide public safety radio system from Allen Cutts with Tusa Consulting Services.
Cutts shared that the system, which hasn’t been upgraded since possibly the late 1990s, has odd things going on with the coverage, co-channel interference, remote sites connected to phone lines and a disconnect among the people who maintain different parts of the system.

At the July meeting, County Fire Chief Mark Melvin said the radio system would be one of the top things on the Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (SPLOST) list in four to five years. Melvin shared that they’re trying out new radio equipment – it can carry both analog and digital signals – on a tower on Pierce Dairy Road.

He said he received a signal from the tower all the way out to Blue Springs Marina: “You can’t do that with our current system.”

Law enforcement and fire will tryout the equipment, he said, to see if they have the same response.
If the board recommends the equipment to the county, the county will have to purchase 15 to 20 portables, or walkie-talkie type devices, because their current portables will not work with this system.

Sheriff Robert Markley said his office would need about 15 mobiles, the type of radios in law enforcement vehicles, as well. He added, “It’s a good fix for the time being. It’ll take us where we need to go until some time in the future.”

Melvin agreed: “We do have some options; we’re not just stuck.”

Crew said they could use 911 money for infrastructure needs but not to purchase individual radios. He later added that the 911 Center would have to buy some new equipment as well.
Madison Police Chief Bill Ashburn said their radios are analog so those would have to be replaced at a cost of about $550 each.

Crew added that the timing of this project hinges on testing. If all goes well they can then turn it over to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) for its blessing. Once they have that they “can pretty much start.”

Members also heard updates regarding the Power Phone Total Response Call Handling System.
Crew said they were having some issues with their Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) software provider, so they – Crew and Melvin – met with AT&T and their CAD provider.

“We told them something’s got to be done or we’re gone,” he said. “They (the CAD provider) bought us a server. That’s been installed and connected.”

Also, he said their CAD provider is coming back to do a hot fix, or a software upgrade, while the system is still in use.

He said Power Phone should be able to do what it’s been trying to do for the last nine months, which is get their software to communicate with the CAD software.

“It all should be done in the next three months,” he said.

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