Alachua County is considering either upgrading or replacing its current emergency-response radio system for police and firefighters.
The system is out-of-date, with certain parts no longer existing, and technical support is sometimes no longer available, said James Lanier, technical services division manager for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
The current system is an older Motorola model. Lanier said it either needs to be upgraded or replaced, and the county is looking to hire a consultant to address these issues, which is the next step before any decisions are made.
“What’s our sustainability right now? What are some of the challenges we face? And how do we build and scale this system from a technological, funding coverage perspective?” Lanier said of the unknowns a consultant could help clear up.
A system upgrade would cost between $8 million and $10 million, Lanier said, while a new system would cost more than $10 million.
The main issue surrounding the current system is its signal doesn’t cover the entire county, sometimes forcing first responders to operate without readily available communication, said Art Forgey, a sheriff office’s spokesman.
The problem isn’t with the radio systems in the first responders’ vehicles, he added, but with their handheld communication.
“It creates a huge problem for us as first responders,” Forgey said. “We’re not able to relay information back to dispatch, and dispatch is not able to relay information to use.”
For the best communication, responders must return to their in-vehicle radios rather than being able to use their handheld devices at the scene, he said. Areas where communication is most difficult is in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the county.
The spotty communication is rooted in development that’s popped up over the years, mainly in the construction of taller buildings, which sometimes interfere with radio signals, said Harold Theus, deputy chief for Alachua County Fire Rescue.
“The needs of Alachua County, the population growth and the number of buildings has increased,” Theus said. “It has decreased the amount of radio coverage we’ve been able to have county-wide.”
This has been an on-going issue for the county, and commissioners hope to have it resolved soon, Commissioner Mike Byerly said.
“We need to jointly move forward with this,” he said. “It’s not a new issue.”