County to spend $13.3 million to upgrade emergency radio system
by Rachel Gray
December 04, 2013 11:58 PM | 5417 views | 2 2 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Richard Esquiveli is a Cobb County 911 emergency dispatcher. He has no less than five screens available to him at all times as well as a headset to speak with 911 callers as well as officers around the county. <br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
Richard Esquiveli is a Cobb County 911 emergency dispatcher. He has no less than five screens available to him at all times as well as a headset to speak with 911 callers as well as officers around the county.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
Cobb will spend nearly $13.3 million to upgrade the “brains” of the county-wide emergency radio system after a unanimous vote by the Cobb County Commissioners on Nov. 24.

The $13.3 million will be pulled from a capital projects fund that the county has been contractually obligated to invest in for eight years.

“We had the money set aside,” said Ann Flynn, who has been the director of the Cobb emergency communications department since February, after serving as the assistant manager for 14 years.

The agreement is with Motorola Solutions, which has worked under a contract with Cobb County since 2003. The improvements include hardware and software components, including the latest operating system.

Created in 1987, the Cobb 911 Center, which employs 127 people, answers around 1,200 emergency phone calls and 1,000 non-emergency phone calls daily, totaling 800,000 phone calls each year.

But Flynn said the latest round of improvements was not driven by a growing county or increased call volume. It was spurred by new technology becoming available.

“We are responsible for providing the highest standard,” Flynn said.

Flynn said the upgrade to the 800 MHz Core radio system with five towers was necessary because the equipment was nearing the end of its life.

“A computer only lasts so long,” Flynn said.

When the project is completed at the end of 2014, the old system will have reached its 10 years of expected usability.

Commissioner Bob Ott said the yearly funding set aside for future needs of the radio system will continue, because computer equipment will always break or become outdated.

“You have to constantly keep the core up to date,” Ott said.

The latest technology

The new equipment will be compatible with the 2011 SPLOST purchased dispatch consoles and users will be able to utilize their existing radios for a minimum of three more years.

“What this is going to do is ... create redundancy on purpose, in case of a failure,” Flynn said about the system now having a backup.

Flynn said in the field there are 5,000 users of the emergency system, including area hospitals and ambulance services, the county jail, Cobb County Transit, the Department of Transportation, as well as every city and county fire and police department in Cobb.

The new emergency radio system will not only tie together different departments in the county, but also communicate with other agencies outside of Cobb.

“We are the cornerstone of the northwest metro Atlanta area,” Flynn said.

The system will allow more of a “roaming footprint,” for police officers that might be handling an accident on the border of Cobb County, Flynn said, by sharing reception towers with other municipalities.

The upgrades expand the system’s reach into other jurisdictions, including partnerships with the city of Atlanta, the city of Douglasville, Fulton, DeKalb and Forsyth counties and the state of Georgia.

In 2005, Cobb entered into an agreement that required each of these jurisdictions to set up a replacement fund for their emergency systems.

The interconnectedness of Cobb’s new emergency radio system will show the greatest benefit in the case of a natural catastrophe or national security incident, both Flynn and Ott said.

An emergency radio system that crosses county lines means, “if we were to have a large-scale incident on the border of Atlanta, we can talk to each other,” Flynn said.

Ott, who represents southeast Cobb, said if there were to be a chemical spill or a large disaster like Katrina, the upgraded radio system would help in coordinating relief efforts.

If there was a massive evacuation in Atlanta, “(Cobb) would definitely be called in to help,” Ott said.

The deal also includes an upgrade of the 79 weather sirens spread throughout the county. Right now, each one has a button that has to be hit separately, causing a slight delay, Flynn said. The new system will allow each switch to be hit at the same time.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
I Heart Waste
December 12, 2013
So the same Astro 25 core bought "way back" in 2006 is already EOled in 2013? Wow, guess we should have kept our old Smartnet II system and waited to buy phase 2 at much less cost back then when Motorola sold us the farm for $38 million dollars only 7 years ago. And this does not account for the yearly maintenance costs we pay to keep it running.

Harris, EF Johnson Technologies and Cassidian/EADS all sell the same P25 phase 2 systems for much less, but once again we didn't shop around. We keep dealing with a vendor who has adopted a Microsoft style life cycle policy on radio networks that everyone else supports for 10-15 years. Harris is just now EOLing analog EDACS support, because they don't try to brute force costly fork lift upgrades on their customers like our favorite vendor does.

Oh well, new toys for us all that won't work any better than the venerable 5 site simulcast (instead of the 9 to 10 needed for adequate portable coverage) system we are already overpaying for now. Does this new "upgrade" solve the many coverage problems we now put up with? Don't see any additional sites being built. ISSI is great, but what is more important, being able to talk out of our hospitals, schools and businesses or to play long distance contacts on public safety radio? (Hint: cellphones and VHF analog radios have worked fine for years for this purpose)

And when this upgrade goes in, and all the user fees go up for the cities, maybe they'll get fed up with this MotoBS and go Nexedge , DMR or dare I say, TETRA- get just as good a performing radio system with better security at 1/3 the cost. This would be a great time for one of those municipalities who run such a system to step up and "upgrade" it to accommodate more users.

This radio game is getting very expensive. But hey, just throw money at it. Apparently we have it like that in good old corn Cobb county! Go Braves!
Just Wait
December 05, 2013
Can you hear me now?
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