Communications upgrade now under way

Published 6:56 pm Friday, June 29, 2012


Managing Editor and News Writer

Federal government requiring city, county, BOE to change radios to ‘narrow-band’ frequency

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Several local government agencies in Decatur and Grady counties are anxious to complete the transition of their wireless communications to a new digital system before the end of the year.

The upgraded communications will primarily encompass the portable radios that emergency responders and other government employees use.

Five governments are partnering with each other to share the cost of upgrading their respective systems, which are currently “broadband” and have to be converted to a narrow-band wavelength by December 31, 2012. The Federal Communications Commission ordered the change for all local public safety radio systems, in part to free up new frequencies for commercial communications.

The governments taking part in the upgrade, including the cost they will pay, are:

• Decatur County, $1.48 million (Sheriff’s Office, County Public Works, EMS, Fire and Rescue, E911 equipment)

• Grady County, $1.37 million

• Decatur County Board of Education, $326,000 (School bus drivers, maintenance, school resource officers, school administrators)

• City of Bainbridge, $252,000 (Bainbridge Public Safety, Water/Sewer/Street department workers)

• City of Cairo, $145,000

According to the intergovernmental agreement for the narrowband project, Grady County, the City of Cairo and the Board of Education will pay cash for what they owe, while Decatur County and the City of Bainbridge will finance their respective amounts.

Wednesday, representatives from Motorola held a project kickoff meeting at the Cloud Livestock Building. Earlier this year, Motorola won the contract to provide the communications upgrades for the five governments.

Ashley Sanchez, lead systems engineer with Motorola, explained that the Decatur County portion of the project will primarily include upgrades at two communications towers. The first tower is located on Spring Creek Road and the second is located on Highway 97. There will also be some minor upgrades at the Bainbridge Public Safety headquarters’ communications tower.

Glenn Hendry, account manager for Motorola, said the upgrades will improve the coverage for first responders who use portable radios in the rural portions of the county. He said that current “dead areas” and the occasional loss of signal should improve with the new system.

“I haven’t had a single customer that I can remember who has a coverage map as good as yours,” he said. “And ever so, they have all been very pleased with their coverage improvements, and I know you’ll be pleased as well.”

Bill Gardiner, a Motorola employee who is serving as the project manager, told the assembled government officials that time is of the essence.

“If we’re going to get this project completed by January 1, the next 60 days are going to be critical to our success,” he said.

Gardiner said the order for the new equipment will have to be made by at least July 4, because the equipment will have to be built from scratch in Motorola’s Schaumburg, Ill., facility. He estimated it would take approximately 75 days to build and ship the equipment, meaning that installation is projected to start Oct. 15.

While the expensive equipment is being constructed, there will be additional preparatory work taking place in Decatur County. Gardiner explained that each tower site will have to have considerable architecture and engineering work completed — for example, to make sure the towers will be able to withstand the equipment’s additional weight. Also, there will have to be preparatory work done to determine which frequency each governmental system will use, and make sure there are no conflicts.

Gardiner said it would likely take 15 days to install the equipment at the tower sites, meaning that training for the government employees will begin in early November. He said the projected date to be completely ready to go online with the system is Dec. 17, which does not leave much room for error.

“We’ve got to be a team and we’ve got to work together to get this project done by the deadline,” he said. “But we can do this.

“Motorola is not new to these kinds of projects. We’re not going to put something out there that’s not working right. We want you to be satisfied customers, and we know that you will be.”