County to spend up to $2M on communications upgrades

Decatur County Commissioners tentatively plan to approve spending between $1.5 million to $2 million to improve the county’s antiquated emergency services communication system.

Thursday night, the Board of Commissioners met in a workshop with other county officials, including Sheriff Wiley Griffin, Fire Chief Charlie McCann and 911 Director Tonya Griffin. Theo Titus, of RCC Consultants, told the assembled officials that the upgrades are necessary due to a federally-mandated change.

By Jan. 1, 2013, all public safety radio systems in the U.S. must broadcast on a “narrow-band” wavelength (approximately 12.5 kHz). Decatur County’s communications network currently operates on a wide-band (25 kHz) broadcast and must be upgraded to meet the federal mandate.

Titus recommended that the county upgrade its network to provide a greater range of coverage, by installing new communications equipment at various towers throughout the county. This equipment would be digitally-based and narrow-band compliant, and allow for improved coverage for the county’s public safety officers, such as deputies and firefighters.

Titus said that the improved network will be safer for those officers, because it will allow for better communication between the officers when they are not in their vehicles.

“It’s important for an officer or firefighter in trouble to be able to reach someone who can help,” Titus said. “You’ll always have pretty good coverage in your mobile radios in the vehicles, but we’re even more concerned about the kind of coverage your officers get when they’re out in the field.”

Titus said the county could conceivably spend approximately $700,000, in order to do the “bare minimum” to meet the federal mandate. This price would upgrade the county’s analog wide-band equipment to analog narrow-band equipment, but it would actually result in less coverage than the county currently has.

Instead, Titus recommended that the county choose the multiple-site based option, which would upgrade everything to digital and vastly improve the existing coverage range, but also cost anywhere between $1.5 million and $2 million. County Finance Director Carl Rowland said some of the project could be paid for with SPLOST or potential grants, but most of it would likely have to be borrowed.

“I know it sounds painful, but we’re talking about a 10-year investment,” Titus said. “You have to at least spend the $700,000. You’ve got no choice; the government says you must be narrow-band by Jan. 1, 2013.”

Titus said the request for proposals from vendors would go out Monday, and work on the upgrades can begin in several months. Currently, Sheriff Griffin and other officials have concerns about the locations of some of the communications sites, but Titus said those can be modified if necessary.

“We’re running out of time to get this project done, because there is a 2013 deadline,” he said.

After the two-hour-long workshop, the commissioners agreed to move forward and send out the requests for proposal.

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