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Commissioners upset about radios

10/17/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

The message was loud and clear from the Ellis County Commission in Monday's meeting: Commissioners were unhappy about another issue concerning emergency radios and the system they operate on in the county.

There have been instances when one radio will be next to another, and one gets a call and the other does not, as well as complaints of garbled communication and inability to scan radio traffic in the area, Ellis County Administrator Greg Sund told commissioners in his memo.

Ellis County EMS Director Kerry McCue told commissioners "there are some traditional bad spots in the county, like the Saline River Road, where we never had very good luck" with radios, but added he also has seen two radios side-by-side, one working and one not.

McCue added he recently made several attempts to contact his on-duty supervisor concerning an accident in a rural part of the county.

"She never heard," McCue said.

McCue said "on the positive side," the radios have worked well on patient transports to Wichita. He added, to his knowledge, no communications have been lost that were detrimental to his department's response to calls.

"It does work. There are some aspects of it that work really well," he said. "It's just that we got to fix these other things."

Ed Geer of the Kansas Department of Transportation (state radio) recently met with county officials. Geer told them the capability of the Motorola radio system is the setup of required sites. A test of that capability on the EMS/fire channel has seen improvements.

Geer informed the county digital radios always are seeking a wide area network, which can lead to them roaming off the county's dispatch, depending on the radio's location. For that reason, the county is looking to set the radios to a preferred site.

Sund told commissioners in his memo the new radios likely were not "optimized" during the re-banding process, even though it is a strong recommendation from the company, Motorola.

"That was something to be done in the re-banding project, and Motorola never mentioned it -- ever mentioned it," Sund said of the need to optimize the radios.

The county has received a quote from Mobile Radio Service, a Motorola dealer located in Great Bend, to do the work and is waiting for a quote from Nex-Tech.

In his memo, Sund told commissioners dispatch is set up with control stations rather than a method called Direct Connect. With Direct Connect, dispatch would have priority over other radios in the system. The cost would be $550 to $600 per month to install Direct Connect.

However, Direct Connect is unable to be installed until dispatch radio consoles are upgraded. The upgrades can be done one console at a time, with the cost of the first one $160,000 plus installation for an overall cost of $400,000. Each additional console would cost $50,000 for the equipment, for a total cost of $125,000 each, including equipment.

Sund said total cost for the dispatch console upgrade would be approximately $775,000, and if a console is put in the new EMS/rural fire building as an alternate site, the cost would be $900,000.

Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst wants answers.

"There's got to be something screwed up, somebody from Motorola should be held accountable, should show up to this meeting and say, 'Gee, we're sorry. We screwed up and cost you a million or two dollars, but we want more,' " Haselhorst said. "I think this is the crappiest setup I've ever heard in my life, when it comes to radios."

"We've also created probably the most complex radio system in the state," Sund said, adding the radios the county purchased now are considered obsolete.

"Do we have any legal avenues?" Commissioner Barbara Wasinger asked.

Sund said he would check with county counselor, Bill Jeter, about the matter.

"I think it would behoove the commission to request that Motorola and Nex-Tech both come in and talk with us, and we have Mr. Geer here, because I'm not going to be bamboozled on this for half a million dollars," Commissioner Swede Holmgren said.

"This is crazy. I've been coming here for four years ... and this is getting worse. ... And the public is paying for it. And I'm damn tired of it."