Commissioners discuss county communication policy

By Lesley Marshall
Rawlins County Square Deal – April 23, 2015
Submitted by Newz Group Clipping Service – April 29, 2015

Emergency Management Director Ryan Murray met with the Rawlins County Commissioners during their April 20 meeting to discuss the county communication policy.

Murray explained he attended a training scenario in Oakley last Saturday and radio communication was the focus of the exercise.

“The problem arises when you are running on the VHF or UHF radios which may work in your county, but when you go outside of your county or people come to help you, the capability to communicate is lost as more and more people are transitioning to 800 megahertz radios,” Murray said.

Also, the information coming out of dispatch goes over both the UHF and 800 radio systems, but when someone talks back it only goes over one. Therefore, entities operating on different radio systems will not hear each other, Murray added.

According to Murray, Rawlins County made a decision approximately three years ago to transition from UHF to 800 radios. Since then, Rural Fire Department 2 has discovered they are running into some coverage issues, he said.

“My concern with that is, we are creating a department on an island,” Murray said. “That is becoming a risk not only to the public, but to the responders.”

It is my understanding that Rawlins County Emergency Medical Services has completely transitioned to the 800 radios, as has the Rawlins County Health Center, the Herndon Fire Department and the McDonald Fire Department, Murray explained.

“If there are issues with the 800 radios for RFD 2, what can we do to fix that?” Murray asked. “We are at a crossroads here and we have to come together as a group and decide what we are going to do.”

Commissioners Chairperson Lisa Woody said she has received feedback from some people stating that there are areas within the county where the 800 radios do not work.

Murray explained that service with the radios can vary depending on where you are in the county and that is true of both the UHF and 800 radios.

RFD 2 Fire Chief Allen Castens said his department is still using the UHF radios because the 800 radios are not providing accurate coverage.

Sheriff Bill Finley said another problem with departments using both radio systems is that it can create chaos in the dispatch station.

“There is already a lot going on down there,” Finley said. “You have 911 calls coming in, you have the amublance asking for directions, you have law enforcement responding and then you have the fire department and they are on a different channel.”

Finley explained that along with operating on a different radio system, RFD 2 uses poor radio etiquette.

“We can’t listen to all of their excess talking in dispatch,” Finley said. “There is a lot of unnecessary information coming in and we can only pay attention to so much.”

“A lot of this comes down to training and radio discipline,” Murray said. “In dispatch, it creates so much traffic over the radio that that, in itself, is creating a safety risk.”

Therefore, the UHF system volume is currently turned down in dispatch. Finley added that if RFD 2 switches to the 800 radio, they will have access to a Tac channel. The Tac channel would allow RFD 2 to communicate among themselves without obstructing dispatch.

“It appears to me we have a discrepancy on whether the 800 works or whether it doesn’t and I can see both sides,” Commissioner Craig Cox said.

“A good example is the Achilles Fire Department,” Finley said. “We used to not be able to contact them on a cell phone or UHF radio, I gave them one handheld 800 radio and they haven’t missed a fire since.”

“What can we do to improve the 800 reception?” Cox asked.

Murray said he can research the cost of putting up another 800 megahertz repeater and another 800 tower, but it’s a waste to keep spending money on a system that everyone isn’t going to use.

“it’s not going to fix the problem,” he said.

Those that are already using it aren’t having many problems, he added.

“I hear what everyone is saying and I wish we had one system that would work,” Castens said. “We would use it if it was reliable.”

The commissioners decided to have Murray research what can be done to the local tower in Atwood to provide better service.

“Until we get that information, I would like for RFD 2 to keep the UHF radios to communicate among themselves, but once they are in the fire vehicles they switch to the 800 radios,” Woody said. “If the 800 radios aren’t working, they can call into dispatch and have the UHF channel volume turned up. Also, RFD 2 needs to document when and where they aren’t getting service with their radios.

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