Archive for Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Radio switch to be costly, official says

March 14, 2007

The switch to digital radios for emergency responders as mandated by the federal government will be a costly one, Chuck Magaha, Leavenworth County Emergency Management director, told county commissioners last week.

According to Magaha, the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Homeland Security have mandated that all emergency communications must move to digital technology by 2013.

The move would make it easier for emergency responders -- law enforcement departments, fire departments, etc. -- to communicate with each other.

But rebanding the county's emergency communications will be a time-consuming, costly process, he said.

Completely new radios, which Magaha estimated at $800 today, must soon be digital at a cost of around $5,000 apiece.

The additional problem is digital technologies are not compatible with the county's current microwave backbone that, according to Magaha, was purchased in 1972.

Updating the backbone, which essentially is the device installed on communication towers to transmit radio signals, would be the most expensive part of undertaking.

Funding for the improvement of the public safety structure could come either from the county's one-cent sales tax or -- more likely -- from the state, Magaha said.

He mentioned the possibility of using Kansas Department of Transportation towers to utilize the communications system already in place.

"Using someone else's equipment to better utilize ours only makes sense," he said. "We need to be asking, 'What's best for Leavenworth County?'"

As it currently stands, different emergency service providers in Leavenworth County are unable to communicate directly on one frequency. If, for instance, a high-speed pursuit led Leavenworth police into a neighboring city or township, communication delays with other emergency service providers could exist.

Magaha said three different frequencies are in use in the county. Public safety personnel in the city of Leavenworth communicate through a UHF frequency, the rest of the county law enforcement's radios run on an 800 megahertz frequency and the fire department and emergency medical services in the rest of the county use VHF.

"What homeland security wants in place is that a first responder can communicate with a first responder no matter what discipline they are," Magaha said.

In other business on Thursday, the commission:

  • Unanimously approved a final plat request submitted by Raymond and Amy Hart for two lots of property located south of Amelia Earhart Drive in northeast Leavenworth County.
  • Tabled an application to rezone property at 18512 Metro Ave. for further discussion.

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