Magistrates agreed to a $223,000 purchase Tuesday, which they hope will end the problems the county’s new emergency digital radio system has been experiencing.
The county bought the system in 2009, but wasn’t launched until 2012, due to several snags. It was almost immediately, however, after the system went live, that emergency service agencies saw the same problems they were having with the old system, connecting to one another and to dispatch.
The recent decision Tuesday will go to buy two repeaters that will be placed in the Lewisburg and Auburn areas. One on top of the Lewisburg water tower and one on the Logan Telephone Coop tower in Auburn. A repeater is a combination of a radio receiver and a radio transmitter that receives a weak or low-level signal and retransmits it at a higher level or higher power, so that the signal can cover longer distances without degradation.
When the county bought the new multi-site system, the contract called for at least three repeater tower sites, with the option for a fourth. Magistrates, however, started out with only one, which was placed on Reservoir Hill in Russellville.
Judge Executive Logan Chick claims when Kenwood- the system’s vendor- first came to Logan County to show the product, they brought with them a portable system that was to mimic what they would get. Chick added that Kenwood took him throughout the county and the signal was very strong. He said the court was lead to believe that was the service they would get off of one tower, which has proven not to be the case.
According to Dan Sheppard of VEI, a company helping the county work through the radio problems, the system shown to them initially by Kenwood was a conventional system verses the county’s trunking system. That system was much stronger.
Sheppard spoke to the fiscal court Tuesday and told them they really needed to complete the project by putting up the two other sites the contract called for. “If you read the original contract, it was for three tower sites,” said Sheppard.
VEI was also the sole bidder to sell and install the repeaters. Kenwood, the company that sold the system to the county, had quoted a price a while back for several thousands of dollars more.
Sheppard said he couldn’t tell the future when asked if this move would end the issues. He did say he felt, in his professional opinion, it would cover a much larger area than what was being serviced now. “There is no system that will provide 100 percent coverage,” said Sheppard to the court, which magistrate Russell Poore was grateful to hear. “I appreciate your honesty,” said Poore.
When the problems arose after the new system was turned on, a simplex system, which acts as a booster for the radios, was tried. It did not work. Then a reprograming of the hand held radios emergency service agencies use was tired, and although some kinks were worked out, the dead spots where reception wasn’t there, were still there.
Some members of fiscal court expressed their frustration Tuesday, feeling they were lead to believe that the system would work well with only one tower. Magistrate Jo Orange said she was under the impression when the county agreed to phase one and two of the project, that it would work. Phase three was the other tower sites.
Magistrate Thomas Bouldin didn’t want to make any quick decisions Tuesday until the court had time to become informed. When Logan County Sheriff Wallace Whittaker, who is in charge of the installation of the system, said the county needed to get going and not wait until someone gets killed, Bouldin took offense, saying that was the statement that got the court in trouble last time. He said the court acted to quickly without knowing enough about what to buy.
“I didn’t even know about this bid,” said Bouldin on the two additional repeaters.”I’m not here to be pushed into something without talking to the appropriate people. We cannot keep throwing money and not be educated. I am certainly not a radio guru.” Whittaker responded saying he did not mean to offend anyone, only to show the severity of the issue.
Safety is what prompted the court to buy the new system in the first place, after a firefighter came to the court telling how his radio failed to work when an arsonist put a gun in his face and it misfired. Another reason for the upgraded system was due to federal guidelines that asked for all analog systems to be switched to digital by a certain date. The county’s old system was analog.
The sheriff said he trusted VEI and that they knew what they were talking about. Ginger Lawrence, director of the Emergency Communications Center (ECC/911), agreed with Whittaker, as did Lewisburg Fire Chief Eddie Schweers, who was among several firefighters in attendance Tuesday.
Magistrate Russell Poore and Jo Orange asked some of the firefighters that were at the meeting if they thought this would work? Schweers said he had confidence in Sheppard of VEI, and was anticipating a large percentage of difference with the repeater in Lewisburg.
Poore asked the firefighters if this move would make them happy. Fireman Lonnie Epley said that was not a question easily answered. “If we get a call and get to the scene and can’t get out, probably not,” said Epley.
Poore made the motion to purchase the repeaters. His motion was seconded by Magistrate Jack Crossley and passed with an unanimous vote.
“I feel like we should do the best we can to cover as much area as we can, and what we have done this far has not been adequate,” said Poore.