The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Monday, September 23, 2013
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
One of the long-term capital projects Franklin County is facing is replacing the current emergency communications system.
The system used now is inadequate, county officials have said, and must be replaced in order to allow first-responders to effectively communicate with each other during an emergency.
The board of supervisors started the process of actively pursuing a new system in February when Engineering Associates was hired to conduct a communication systems analysis and identify frequencies that can be used.
Mike McGannon with Engineering Associates presented the report to the board last week, stressing the importance of replacing the current system.
"It is in dire need of replacement," he said. "It's all about coverage."
McGannon was referring to past problems in the county when first-responders could not communicate with each other because of the county's terrain.
A new system would fix that, but it would require new equipment and several communications towers in the county.
All of that carries a hefty price tag, with previous estimates reaching as high as $26 million.
Blue Ridge Supervisor Bobby Thompson asked McGannon if the work so far sheds any light on the final cost.
McGannon said it is too early to know what that final cost will be because of all the variables.
One variable is the cost of frequencies, he said. Research has shown that VHF frequencies can only be used for paging capabilities because there is a lack of frequencies on that spectrum for portable communications.
The Statewide Agency Radio System (STARS) is impractical, he said, because it is designed primarily for mobile radio use, not portable.
That leaves the 700/800 MHz spectrum, he said, which is a "clean" (no interference) spectrum already used in neighboring Roanoke and Pittsylvania counties.
The board instructed McGannon to pursue the MHz option to see what is available.
After that is completed, the next step will begin, which is county staff and Engineering Associates working with neighboring jurisdictions to determine their interest in a joint communications system.
The next phase will also include designing a recommended system with cost projections.