Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | May 22, 2018

Communications center requires upgrade to meet federal standards

By Xiomara Levsen | Jul 11, 2017
The county received a report about what it would need to do to upgrade all of the technology in the county including the radios and equipment at the Washington County Communications Center in June.


The county received a report detailing what it would need to spend to get the Washington County Communications Center upgraded to federal standards in the next couple of years.

Elert Associates were the consultants hired by the county to do the report. They reviewed the equipment, building and service needs for the county last month. The report was received June 14, Washington Communications Center supervisor Cara Sorrells said.

The first option for upgrading everything but the building was $4.6 million. The highest option was $10.4 million.

“I had no idea of the cost,” Sorrells said. “I knew it would be a lot, but as far as a surprise I knew we had to do something. Since narrowbanding the coverage for the officers and fire department has been poor ... we have to do something. We don’t want someone to get hurt.”

The report included several options for the communications center, including a minimum of six radio consoles, to upgrade or remodel the new center so it follows FEMA/NFPA guidelines, move to radios with 800 megahertz of coverage to consolidate with another county.

“So it’s very expensive and depends on where we want to go,” Sorrells added. “Towers are a big part of it. The main thing we want to do and want to do right is get good coverage. Not just mobile coverage but portable coverage for the officers, so if they have a portable on the hip and go into a house we want to make sure we have the highest percentage of time so they can reach us in a house if they’re having issues or whatever building they go into.”

Better portable coverage would also benefit fire departments and emergency medical technicians as well, she added.

The last upgrade to communications equipment was done in 2000, she said. After that Sorrells advised the county another upgrade would be needed soon, and the discussion began soon after that.

“I would say that in the last five to seven years, we’ve discussed it [the needs at the communication center] heavily; because, do we buy a new system and put it here if we’re not going to be in this building?” Sorrells asked. “What are we going to do with this building?”

The building is having septic and electrical issues currently.

“This is an old house,” Sorrells said. “This isn’t really built to be a technology-enabled building, so we really need to do something different.”

The next step will be holding several meetings with the E-911, Communication and Emergency Management commissions to review what the report said.

“We need to determine what we are going to do, which option we’re going to take, how we’re going to fund it and how we’re going to move forward,” Sorrells said. “If we proceed with an architect for our building, which I say we don’t have the cost for that yet, we’d have to get an RFP (request for proposal) from an architect to do a feasibility study — that’s the next part for that.”

If the decision is made to move forward with a new building or renovations Sorrells said it is important for the building to be upgradable and have it last for the next 30 to 40 years.

The current console equipment the communications center uses is out of date.

“I can’t get parts for it anymore,” Sorrells said. “If I need parts for it I have to go to eBay, seriously, because they don’t make these anymore. This needs replaced pretty quickly and the question is, should we be replacing this without looking at the radios?”

Washington County Supervisor Richard Young, who is a member of the Communications, E-911 and Emergency Management committees, said he was surprised by the estimated cost.

“I had no idea what the price would be — several million dollars,” Young said.

The costs include either remodeling the center or having a new building built.

“It has to be redone because to put this new system in you have to have climate control,” Young said. “It has to be done correct or your radio system goes down.”

The results of the report will be presented to the Emergency Management, E-911 and Communications committee meetings Wednesday evening, Young said.

“I think after next Wednesday we’ll know what direction we’re going and how soon,” he added.

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