12/30/09 — Work begins on emergency radio towers

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Work begins on emergency radio towers

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 30, 2009 1:46 PM

Work on two radio towers for the county's new $9.7 million communications system is under way and should be completed by the first of March.

Plans call for the system to be switched on in September.

Larry Pearce, president of the Wayne County Firemen's Association, said he is excited to see the upgrade finally take shape.

"Our county radio system has been in place for many, many years. We had to do something to update it. Hopefully this will give us everything that we need," Pearce said. "An advantage will be being able to talk to other agencies that we currently are not able to talk to. We will have the interoperability we have not had before.

"There will be better coverage than before because of new towers throughout the county including new ones in Mount Olive and Grantham."

Pearce particularly likes the "man down" capability of the new system's radios. All a person has to do is hit a button and the radio channel is locked in an open position that would lead rescuers to the location.

"That is a big advantage," he said. "We have nothing like that in the current system. I am very encouraged that we will have a system that will give us a system that gives us more safety and interoperability."

Pearce said that the county is still working out the details of how the radios will be distributed to fire departments, rescue units and law enforcement.

"I feel they are trying to give the citizens the best system for the money," he said.

The county had hoped that $500,000 to $750,000 in 911 revenues could be used to help finance the system. However, commissioners found out just prior to approving the 2009-10 budget in June that the state would not allow it for that use.

Before it could proceed the county had to receive approval from the Local Government Commission to borrow up to $9.7 million from RBC Centura to finance the system. It will be financed over a 10-year period at a 3.88 percent interest rate -- the lowest of four proposals received.

The loan payment on the system is included in the budget.

In August commissioners awarded the job of building the radio towers to Communications Inter-national, which had submitted a bid of $872,933. Much of the work will be done in the spring and summer, said county manager Lee Smith.

Some projected and anticipated timelines are as follows:

* The Grantham tower is expected to be completed by the end of January. It is located off U.S. 13 on property owned by the county Public Schools.

* The Mount Olive tower is expected to be completed by early March on land behind Carver Memorial Park.

* The microwave antenna system anticipated completion date is the late March or early April.

* Equipment infrastructure should be delivered for deployment to the tower sites beginning in April, with an installation completion date sometime in May.

* County acceptance is scheduled for September. The projected date for the system to be switched on is sometime that month.

* The final part will be distribution of mobile/portable units given to emergency responders. The new radio system could include some 1,600 radios for all of the county's fire, rescue and law enforcement agencies.

"The most popular question is when and how many mobiles and portables can each department expect to be purchased by Wayne County for each department," county Emergency Services Director Joe Gurley said. "This number is still unknown and will not be known until the microwave contract is finalized, equipment shelters and generators for all tower sites are finalized.

"Tentative numbers are anticipated by mid-January. Wayne County's number-one priority is safety for the emergency responders and we will make radio purchases to the best of our ability to meet the need of each department. Please keep in mind that the above dates are projected dates and things could change due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control."