MOUNT VERNON — The future direction of emergency radio communication in the county was discussed by members of the Knox County 9-1-1 Board during its regular meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Greg Catlett, general manager of Vasu Communications, which provides radio equipment to most county emergency agencies as well as the county 9-1-1 system, updated board members on the recent purchase of nearly $25,000 worth of equipment approved by the board in July.
Catlett said the equipment will replace and update equipment in use in Mount Vernon and Centerburg, providing better radio coverage for Knox County Sheriff’s deputies working in the Centerburg area. Deputies are sometimes out of range of the county dispatch center at the sheriff’s office.
Because deputies usually work alone when on patrol, Catlett said enabling the deputies to be able to communicate with dispatchers from their portable radios is a crucial officer safety issue, should a need for assistance arise.
The replacement of the main transmitter in the center of Mount Vernon and the voting receiver in Centerburg is the first phase in a project which will update equipment throughout the county, bringing the capability for narrow band transmission as well as digital radio communication to the system in future years.
Knox County Sheriff David Barber said the Centerburg area was given priority for the first phase because deputies patrol the area full time, and the area’s population continues to grow.
Barber said a bank robbery last year in Centerburg highlighted the need for more reliable radio communications in the southwest corner of the county.
“The officers could not talk to the dispatchers, which is a huge officer safety issue,” Barber said.
The updated equipment will be mixed mode, explained Catlett. It will work with the analog system emergency departments currently use, as well as the digital system some departments are considering using in the future.
“The next phase will be to pick another target area without a good signal, like Danville,” Catlett told the board.
Matt Sturgeon, Knox County Emergency Management Agency deputy director, told the board state homeland security funding may be available because the project appears to comply with the requirements for a grant project designed to improve radio communication statewide.
“The goal of the project is to increase interoperability statewide,” Sturgeon said of the Ohio homeland security grant, for which Knox County has applied. “Perhaps we should review the state homeland security project and see that it’s cohesive with this project and its phases.”
EMA Director Brian Hess recommended pursuing state funding.
“The money is there,” Hess said. “Why not use it for Knox County? Use homeland security dollars and relieve the 9-1-1 system of this expense.”
Mount Vernon Fire Chief Shawn Christy cautioned the board to consider the future goals of such a project before beginning to purchase upgrades and new equipment, which may or may not be compatible with future communication systems in the county.
A Long Range Communications Planning Committee is being formed to look at those issues and others, as officials begin to plan for five, 10 and 15 years into the future.
Christy, Barber, MVPD Capt. George Hartz, Sturgeon, a representative of Vasu, Central Ohio Joint Fire District Chief Joe Porter, Eastern Knox County Joint Fire District Chief Larry Stimpert, and Fredericktown EMS Chief Rick Lanuzza will serve on the committee.
Knox County Commissioner Teresa Bemiller, president of the 9-1-1 Board, voiced concerns about the possible necessity to hire temporary workers or assign current 9-1-1 staff with the task of entering large amounts of data for the new Emergitech Computer Assisted Dispatch equipment.
Bemiller pointed out the roughly $100,000 the county is paying Emergitech for training and services, in accordance with the contract between the vendor and the county.
“What’s that getting us, then?” Bemiller asked.
Hess said he shared Bemiller’s concern, and had questions of his own regarding similar issues. Board members agreed they would like a representative from Emergitech to be available to answer questions at an upcoming special meeting. The date of the special meeting will be announced soon, according to Bemiller.