Communications Committee to Recommend Each Agency On Its Own for Transmission System


Published on May 8 2012 4:02 pm
Last Updated on July 14 2013 12:07 pm
Written by Greg Sapp

First, the Effingham County 911 Board directed that all agencies use the 800 megahertz network for emergency communication, but that didn't work because area fire departments maintained their own systems.

Then, 911 concurred when the city police department, the Effingham County Sheriff's Department, and the Illinois State Police agreed to switch to the Starcom system, and then watched when the sheriff's department pulled out of the agreement to try to develop a high band system.

Now, the 911 Board will consider a recommendation next month from its Communications Committee to no longer offer a communications network and leave the agencies to decide for themselves what network they want to use.

Communications Committee Chairman Russ Thomas Tuesday said, "800 is petering out.  Do we want to shut down and let the disciplines use their own systems?  If we're going to keep it for a period of time, they (the agencies) need to know to make plans accordingly."

Motorola, the agency that services 911, said it would guarantee 800 megahertz for one more year, until May 2013.  However, there were indications that the guarantee might be extended until 2014.  The full 911 Board, which met prior to the meeting of the Communications Committee, approved the one-year extension.

After considerable debate, the Communications Committee agreed to recommend the full 911 Board sunset the availability of 800 megahertz through 911 as of May 2014.  The motion also recommends the 911 Board get requests for proposals on new consoles for the 911 dispatching centers.

The consoles now in the dispatching centers are 13 years old and are analog, plus the computers are running on Windows XP software.  The belief is that new digital consoles will resolve many of the problems experienced when city police and county deputies try to communicate outside of their squad cars on portable radios.  The radios are digital, so should be compatible with the new consoles.  Board member and Altamont Fire Chief Jon Becker noted that under 911's master plan, the consoles are to be replaced in 2013.

911 Communications Manager Jodi Moomaw said a system similar to the one used by Bond County should address communication problems.  The Bond County telecommunications supervisor was at a recent 911 board meeting to discuss the system they employ.

There were questions raised about the proposed consolidation of 911 dispatching centers into one location, and about the coming Next Generation technology that would allow dispatchers to receive 911 calls by text or other avenues.  Effingham County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy John Loy said those are items that need to be considered when drawing up the bid specs for the consoles.

Loy also reported that if city and county officers are working a joint operation, they're to check with the 911 supervisor to use a common channel to enhance communications.  He also said a patch being made available through 911 by city police has eliminated some of the lack of communication, although there is still garble at times.  The new consoles are expected to eliminate some of the problems with garble.

There was some discussion, though, about how much 911 is expected to do to remedy the problem.  More than one person said that 911's job is to receive a call, and then to dispatch the correct agencies to answer the call.  The agencies should decide what system they want to use for their agencies.  Moomaw said the new consoles would enable dispatchers to notify agencies of a call, regardless of what communications system they use.

Regardless, everyone at Tuesday's meeting agreed; it's a law enforcement problem that the city and county agencies can't always hear one another, not a 911 problem.  City police chief Mike Schutzbach said, "It became an issue when City went to Starcom; we added communication with the State Police, but communication with the County worsened."

Some on the 911 Board are watching to make sure 911 isn't left holding the bill for efforts by the City and County to fix their own problems.