By KORTNY HAHN khahn@cheboygantribune.com CHEBOYGAN COUNTY – A committee has been formed to work with CCE Central Dispatch Authority to evaluate their current radio system and look at the feasibility of switching to the 800 mHz system. “911 is working on a report right now with a steering committee to analyze the change in technology to the 800 mHz radios,” said County Administrator Jeff Lawson. “The format is to identify what our weaknesses are today, what the strengths of an 800 system are and the big portion of this is how it would be paid for.” Lawson said there are various members from organizations that sit on the steering committee, including from Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet Counties emergency personnel. Over the next few months, this committee will work with CCE's staff to put together the report and get down to the analysis on how the new radio system will be paid for. Undersheriff Tim Cook and Lawson have taken the lead to work with the 911 staff to develop the report's outline, objectives and timeline for presentation to the 911 board. Assistant County Administrator and Finance Director Kari Kortz is the main person looking at the financial side of the change over and will be helping when it comes to the analysis. This will be an extensive process and Lawson said he will continue to bring updates to the County Board of Commissioners as they move forward in the process. There may be several grant opportunities that may be sought to help pay for new system on the fire side, but other than that, they are few and far between. The initial estimate to switch over to the new system is $4 million to $5 million. Commissioner Vice-Chair Sue Allor said it seems to her that over the last few years there has been a constant rotation of switching from one radio system to another and every time it comes at a large cost. “Which is not only for 911, but then all of the ancillary services,” said Allor. “Is there a nutshell summary as to what is happening?” For the last 20 years, the 911 center has had the same radio system on the same frequency. During that time, the federal government has mandated narrow banding, which has compressed the frequencies, causing issues with the radios. Even before the narrow banding took place, there were geographic anomalies which created dead spots the new system would be addressing. This also created issues with emergency personnel being able to use their radios in buildings. “There were certain areas in the county, whether it's mountains, trees or hills, there are just places with poor reception,” said Commissioner John Wallace. “And we have been trying to chase that dead horse for a long time.” This is the reason the report is being created. Staff will be providing a background and information to walk through the history of the radio system and to be able to answer any questions someone may have. There are many different agencies and the individuals from those agencies who will need to understand the differences in the system before they start using them. Many of the other agencies in the region, as well as all over the state, have been moving to the 800 mHz system. The State of Michigan takes care of the backbone of this system and the newer radios have a better coverage pattern, even with the smaller radios, in buildings, compared to older radio systems. “We have to upgrade. So it's either upgrade with old VHF technology that is going to have another problem moving forward when narrow banding occurs here in the next probably five or six years,” said Lawson. “The hope is that the 800 would stay intact longer.” Sheriff Dale Clarmont said looking into the near future the narrow banding will be mandated again, which will make the radio issues worse. “So then you look at the cost differential between what do we do to fix something that is going to happen again type thing, or go to a different system,” said Clarmont. “Right now, it looks like it's going to be more cost efficient, especially looking out five, 10, 15 years, to now migrate to the 800 system, versus VHF.” If they were to stay with the VHF technology, more towers would need to be put up around the region to try to get rid of the dead spots and more “bandaids” would have to be put on to try to fix something that will just get worse in the future. “The 800 system is what most law enforcement, EMS and fire in the nation are going to because that is a system that will not be effected by the federal narrow banding if you will,” said Clarmont. “Also, with the 800, you can take and talk to everybody in the state and at some point, the nation.” The pagers worn by first responders will still need to be operated on the VHF system, as will the Mobile Data Terminals used by emergency personnel. However, as technology expands and improves, those devices will also be able to handle the 800 mHz system. The current system in place will be used as a back up system in case the 800 mHz system were to ever go down. Lawson said the goal is to have the report finished in the next couple months and by early January it will be ready to answer any questions and get into the detail of how things could be paid for, both short term and long term. Also during his report, Lawson updated the board on the Economic Development Corporation which will have their first meeting in September. At that meeting, they will review their goals and objectives of the organization. The county has also met with four architectural firms that have stated they are interested in submitting a proposal to complete work on the county jail. The work that will need to be done includes a facility space needs assessment, preliminary site plan and construction cost estimate for expansion of the jail. This expansion would provide a kitchen facility, equipment and vehicle storage and construction of additional cells. The bids for this work will be opened Aug. 31.