06/03/05 — Municipalities meet to discuss new radio system

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Municipalities meet to discuss new radio system

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 3, 2005 2:36 PM

Wayne County asked local municipalities Thursday to support the county's efforts to install a new radio system allowing all emergency responders within Wayne County to communicate.

The plan, which would be phased in over the next three years, was presented to officials from Pikeville, Mount Olive, Goldsboro and Walnut Creek during an intergovernmental meeting at Wilber's Restaurant.

County commissioners approved the preliminary communications plan last month, which is expected to cost around $8.7 million.

The annual cost to maintain the system would be about $147,500. County Manager Lee Smith said the system would not affect the ad-valorem tax rate, as money would come from grants and the 911 telephone surcharge.

But, Smith said, there are pending bills in the legislature that could jeopardize the county's ability to use the surcharge fund.

Right now, he explained, the county had the option of raising the surcharge from 85 cents to $1.85 in November. That would give the county another half-million dollars by next year to put toward the new system.

The proposed bills would cap the county's ability to raise the surcharge fee, and some bills are attempting to tie fees from calling 911 to the ad-valorem tax rate.

Smith asked the local officials to write or call their representatives in Raleigh to oppose those proposed changes.

The new radios will replace an outdated system, explained Delbert Edwards, and will also meet new federal laws.

Edwards, the county's telecommunications supervisor, said the federal government is narrowing the width of radio bands allowed on VHF channels.

The new federal requirements for narrower radio bands will be phased in over several years, Edwards said.

Smith said there was a lot of concern among emergency responders about the illegal use of radios, and the amount of "chatter" on radios.

"We will need to put some controls on the new system, which will restrict the use of radios, and some of this will stop some of the scanner use," Smith said.

Ray McDonald, town manager for Mount Olive, said there were severe deficiencies in the current radio communication system.

He spoke of a recent occurrence where a Mount Olive law officer was chasing a suspect, and was being shot at, but was unable to communicate with the dispatcher.

"He was only a couple of miles outside the town, but he couldn't get through on his radio," McDonald said. "Luckily, a Duplin County officer heard and came to his aid."

The first step in the county's communications plan will be to install an eight-channel system that allows news from the central dispatch office to be broadcast simultaneously.

Those eight channels will include a main route for emergency medical responders, fire departments, sheriff's office; a sheriff's auxiliary channel; two channels for the Goldsboro Police Department; a municipal police channel for smaller towns in the county; a tactical channel; and an events channel for multi-agency responses.

But since eight channels won't allow the county the growth potential it needs, Edwards said, the second phase of the project will be to add "trunking" capabilities.

Trunking isn't dependent on radio frequency, but uses digital technology to expand radio growth capacity.

Edwards said having trunking capabilities would expand the county's communications capacity.

He likened the plan to expanding from one checkout lane to several in a supermarket.

The proposed plan will also enable the county to meet the "95/95" standard. That means radio contact can be achieved in 95 percent of the county, 95 percent of the time.

The new plan requires five new transmitters in Goldsboro, Fremont, Seven Springs, Mount Olive and Grantham.

The upgrade will also meet the "P25" standard, a national protocol that's mandatory for Homeland Security projects.

State officials want all counties to buy the VIPER communication system, which would cost around $14 million.

The VHF trunking system the county is planning to use will better serve Wayne County's communication needs, Smith said.

McDonald said he supported the move and thanked the county for including Mount Olive in the 911 consolidation two years ago.

"This county has done nothing but help us in the last two years," McDonald said. "They saved us $250,000 by letting us go in their system. We would have had to raise the tax rate eight or nine cents if it weren't for what (you) have done for us."