01/12/05 — County seeks way to upgrade emergency communication system

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County seeks way to upgrade emergency communication system

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on January 12, 2005 2:07 PM

Wayne County's emergency responders are often unable to talk with each other, due to an outdated and underpowered radio system, officials say.

It could cost more than $1 million to upgrade the system, but those costs would be cut dramatically if some transmitters can be located on existing cell towers or other structures.

Also, county officials believe that they can secure federal Homeland Security grants to recoup much of the expense.

These concerns are not new, County Manager Lee Smith said Tuesday. "One of the first things I heard when I arrived as manager (in late 2001) was that we needed to work on the radio system."

But Communications International Inc., a Vero Beach, Fla., firm, has been able to determine the extent of the problems.

The company surveyed deputies, police officers and volunteer firefighters throughout the county about areas where they are typically unable to receive pages or communicate with radios.

That data was then plotted on maps that were shown to county commissioners at their work session, held Tuesday at the Goldsboro Country Club. Goldsboro Mayor Al King and other municipal officials also attended.

A large section of southwestern Wayne has spotty communications at best, but "dead" pockets exist in many other areas, the maps showed. Also, radio contact is poor inside many "high-density" buildings, such as the county courthouse.

Communications International found several problems in the system, President H.T. "Sonny" Dean said. Much of the equipment is inadequate, outdated or simply low-powered.

Many of the current transmitters are not adequately protected against lightning, wind or ice. The presentation include several pictures of them, including one at the Goldsboro Police Department that puzzled the company.

"They've put together three different pieces of equipment from different manufacturers to make it work," said senior engineer Bob Stork. "How it's working, we don't know."

The company urged the county to adopt a "95/95" standard. That would mean that radio contact could be achieved in 95 percent of the county, 95 percent of the time.

That would require the county to have at least 5 transmitters. The suggested locations are in Grantham, Mount Olive, Fremont, the Indian Springs community and Goldsboro.

The main transmitter now is located atop the Waynesborough House, but it would need to be relocated to a new 350-foot tower, somewhere around the U.S. 70/Wayne Memorial Drive area.

Finally, every department would need to upgrade radios that meet the "P25" standard, a national protocol that's mandatory for Homeland Security projects.

The commissioners intend to form a committee with a representative of the sheriff's office, Goldsboro police, the county firemen's association and county emergency services.

It will review the company's report and make recommendations by March 1, which would allow some of the first equipment to be bought with the start of the 2005-06 budget year in July.