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Concerns Over Clark County Public Safety Communications Network (Full Press Release from Clark County Emergency Managment Department)
Tuesday, November 26th, 2013 -- 8:26 am
Posted by Riley Hebert-News Director

-Concerns regarding the current public safety communications network in Clark County have resulted in an initiative to study the issues and recommend possible solutions.

These issues include the age of the current network equipment, end of technical support for the current equipment, reduced coverage of the network as well as operational requirements are among the items that have been discussed.

The current county communications system consists of nine sites located throughout Clark County. Seven sites are equipped with repeaters for the “LG Channel” This channel is primarily used by Fire/EMS but is also used at times by Law Enforcement. Three of the sites are equipped to operate the “Sheriff Channel”. This site is for Law Enforcement agencies serving Clark County to use. An eighth site contains equipment for the Highway Department along with Emergency Management channel and a mutual channel. The ninth site would be the Courthouse which houses the County’s Dispatch Center. Users of the system currently have to select which tower they wish to use based on where they are in the county. Users in one area of the county may not be able to hear users in other areas which creates difficulties in communications and contributes to “communications collisions” where two units try to use the same channel at the same time. This communications system makes notification of emergency services providers possible and also allows for personnel performing their duties to provide and receive information necessary to perform their jobs in serving the public.

In 2011, Clark County along with the Emergency Responders that serve Clark County converted their radio equipment to “narrow band” operation in order to be in compliance with FCC requirements which took effect on January 1, 2013. This requirement included public safety agencies throughout the nation and was not limited to Clark County or just the State of Wisconsin. After this conversion took place agencies began noticing changes in the areas the signals would reach. This became a concern as communications equipment such as radios and pagers were not working as well as they had before the conversion.

In 2012 a study of the county system was completed and a report was presented to the Clark County Law Enforcement/Emergency Management as well as Finance Committees. Questions arose from these presentations and the report which could not be answered. The report recommended system upgrades that ranged in estimated cost from $2.8 to $4.7 million depending on which conceptual design was selected. Because of the scope of the project and the potential substantial cost it was determined more discussion would be needed.

A Communications Sub-Committee was formed at the direction of the Law Enforcement/ Emergency Management Committee which was made up of representatives from Law Enforcement, Fire, and EMS along with Emergency Management and County Board Supervisors. This group represented agencies throughout Clark County and met to discuss issues and concerns of the users of the system as well as options to move forward. This group met numerous times and several issues related to the system and possible upgrades were identified. These included the coverage concerns, operational concerns, capacity concerns as well as the cost of possible future upgrades. The group recommended that a new consultant be hired and a new study completed to address the unresolved questions and make recommendations for system upgrades including budgetary estimates for the solution recommended. This new study will also review the E911 equipment in use by the county and make possible recommendations for upgrades to that equipment as the transition to next generation (NG911) draws closer. Funds were identified to pay for this study from existing budget lines and fund balances with the Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management Departments. This funding was approved and a consultant has been selected through a bidding process.

Emergency Management Director John Ross stated “We are not asking the County Board or residents of Clark County to commit to a new system at this time.” He went on to say We are asking people to understand there are concerns and keep an open mind as we research the situation and possible solutions.. Once the research has been completed the discussion and debate can take place and decisions can be made.”

The work on the new study is scheduled to be completed over the next several months with a report to be presented to the County Board the spring of 2014. At that time there will need to be a debate as to what is to be done and how to finance the option which may be chosen. Any solution selected will need to balance out ways to address the issues identified through previous discussion as well as the impacts of funding a project of this size. It is hoped this can be accomplished through the research which has been done along with the new study which is being worked on.

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