Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Mar 23, 2018

Meeting explains need for new radio equipment

Feb 21, 2018

By Xiomara Levsen, The JOURNAL


Tuesday morning in the supervisors room at the Washington County Courthouse a press conference was held with county officials to explain the need to buy new radio equipment for the Washington County Communications Center.

Chief deputy Shawn Ellingson led the press conference.

“Early last year we decided we were way beyond where we needed to be as far as replacing our radio equipment,” Ellingson said. “The radio equipment we currently have [was installed] in like 2000. It’s about seven years past its life expectancy and we’re literally hanging onto things.”

If they need to replacement parts for the equipment at the communications center they have to buy them off of Ebay, he added.

Besides the equipment being old, there are spots in the county where it’s hard to communicate back and forth with the communcations center because the in-building coverage is at 39 percent.

“Only 39 percent of the time if I’m in a building somewhere in the county can I radio back to communications and let them know I need more ambulances — there is a fire or maybe I need more backup law enforcement,” Ellingson said.

The goal is to have 95 percent coverage when in-building or using a portable radio, he added.

Communications board chairman Ryan Miller said they aren’t trying to scare anyone because the equipment everyone is using currently does work but needs to be upgraded.

Miller asked communications supervisor Cara Sorrells to speak a little bit more about this.

“Right, it does work, but If we have a major incident we’re all going to feel really bad if we’ve got to go screw around to find parts to keep broadcasting,” Sorrells said.

Imagine leaving your home computer on 24 hours a day 365 days a year — this is what is going on with the current equipment, Sorrells added.

“They just keep running, so they need replaced,” she added.

To move forward with the project, the communications board hired Elert & Associates to do a study on the communications equipment in the county. They came back with three different options for the county — continue using the old VHS system, use a stand alone 700 to 800 megahertz system and the final option is go in conjunction with other counties in the area that are using the 700 to 800 megahertz system, Ellingson said.

Requests for proposals (RFPS) were sent out for these three options, he added. The RFPS are due back to the county March 22, which will give them an estimate of what this will cost.

The supervisors passed a resolution to start the process to borrow up to $10.4 million, supervisor Richard Young said. However, money hasn’t been borrowed yet for the project because they’re waiting for the RFPs to come back to see how much replacing the radio equipment will cost.

“And that’s an important part of the RFP process because if we would just send an RFP out to these vendors saying, ‘Hey, we would like to get a price for this,’ and we had not taken any steps to prove we are committed to this project and we have the capability of borrowing the money they probably wouldn’t be excited about it,” Ellingson said. “By the board of supervisors making that resolution it’s letting the vendors know that we are serious and we are going to get this project done.”

The county doesn’t have to get a public vote to bond to purchase for the new equipment because under Iowa code its considered an essential service, Young added.

One of the questions asked at the press conference is if the RFPs included the cost for new radio towers.

“Yeah, part of that $10.4 million was the dispatch equipment and however many towers they may need,” Miller said. “Another three towers is what I think they were looking at and then all the radios for police, fire and EMS throughout the county, so that everybody got the right equipment and everything worked together.”

The estimated time to build the new equipment is two years out, which gives them time to figure out where to put the equipment. See tomorrow’s edition of The Journal for more on this topic.

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