Daviess County commissioners began the process of deciding how to address communications problems faced by the Daviess County Sheriff’s Department and Daviess County Fire Department Thursday, but did not make any decisions on how to move forward.
Commissioners will have to determine how to address problems deputies and firefighters experience while trying to communicate with 911 dispatch from their portable radios. Similar communication problems occur at the Daviess County Detention Center, and officials from the Texas firm that studied the communication problems recommended Fiscal Court take action within the next year to improve radio communications at the jail.
The cost of correcting issues at the jail will be relatively inexpensive. But fixing the problems deputies and firefighters experience in the county will cost millions of dollars.
The choice commissioners make on how to fix the issues will be “one of the biggest decisions I have made in my nine years as Judge-Executive,” Al Mattingly told officials at the beginning on Thursday’s meeting at the county courthouse.
Fiscal Court hired the Texas firm of Trott Communications to study the issue because “it’s such a big decision and it’s going to involve so many taxpayer dollars,” Mattingly said.
The sheriff’s office, county fire department and the volunteer fire departments communicate with 911 dispatch on a VHF radio system, and officials with the departments have complained that messages often become garbled when dispatch in attempting to talk to a firefighter or deputy using a portable radio.
The study found some of the system’s equipment to send and boost radio signals is no longer being manufactured or supported by manufacturers. Trott officials also found almost all of the portable radios, and the majority of voice pagers used by volunteer firefighters, are obsolete.
Local officials who were interviewed for the study found “numerous areas within the county where portable radio coverage is unreliable,” according to the report.
Tom Murphy, senior project engineer for Trott Communications, said the goal of any upgrade would be to make sure deputies and firefighters can communicate on their portable radios in 95% of the county.
The estimated cost of upgrading the “closed campus” communications at the detention center is $40,000, Murphy said, and recommended that work be done in the next six to 12 months.
The cost of either upgrading the countywide VHF system or going to an 800-megahertz digital system like the one used by the city of Owensboro would range between $4.86 million and $6.46 million over 16 years. While the county could maintain the current system, that would cost more than $2 million over 16 years, and would not correct any of the problems deputies and firefighters experience.
If the county decided to install a system like the city’s, the possibility exists of expanding the city’s system, Murphy said.
Mattingly said upfront no decision would be made at Thursday’s meeting, and commissioners questioned Trott officials over whether a new VHF system would fix the communications problems.
City-county 91 director Paul Nave said a digital system would give the county more channels that could be assigned to various departments, and would provide the best interoperability with the city.
Whatever direction officials decide to go in addressing the countywide system, the process will take time.
“It takes about a year to build a system of this size,” said Keith Whitt, Trott’s vice president of engineering services.
The county will also have to prepare a request for proposals and solicit vendors for the project, Whitt said.
“The best case is two years,” Whitt said.