By Jesse Murphy
Emporia Gazette – December 19, 2014
The Lyon County 911 governing board met on Thursday afternoon. County 911 director Bill Duggan and the board discussed arising issues with the radios, pagers and other communication concerns within the dispatch. Photo by Jesse Murphy.
The Lyon County 911 Governing Board discussed communications issues at their meeting on Thursday.
One of the main concerns was over radio frequencies and the capacity of the current system to handle traffic.
Currently, outlying parts of the county use the same radio frequency in either the north or south end.
This means that dispatch will hear calls from multiple agencies about multiple events, without the ability to distinguish what units need to be sent to what location in situations that are located relatively close to each other within the county.
The problem is that with the dispatch consolidation that went into effect in October, multiple agencies have to relay to dispatch over the same channel.
This can cause confusion for law enforcement, emergency medical and firefighters, the latter being the biggest point of discussion on the topic during the meeting.
“You get a grass fire where you’ve got Miller and Reading out on one, then you’ve got Americus out on another,” 911 director Bill Duggan said. “Either they all end up on the same Lyon County North frequency or you can’t hear them. You can only hear one.”
Duggan said that he would like to see the situation resolved before the storm season begins, followed by the controlled burning of prairie grass.
The amount of traffic is not the issue, but to keep the agencies separate and organized.
Duggan said that an update to expand the current system would cost $75,000, while a completely new system would run around $200,000.
“From a financial aspect, you’re spending almost two-fifths to expand this system compared to the next generation,” Duggan said.
An even bigger setback is an anticipated change on state regulation for dispatch communications.
The deliberation in Topeka has been going on for over a year, but an official decision on what system is best is expected to come any time in the next six months to a year.
This fact made the board apprehensive to make a decision to spend money now on an update versus waiting to see what the state is going to require in the future.
The technology is complicated, and the board discussed different ways to make the county’s system more effective and efficient for the fire districts, sheriff’s department and emergency medical staff.
After the dispatch consolidation, growing pains were expected by all entities involved.
“You can’t avoid that, we brought two agencies together into one,” board member and EMT Brandon Beck said. “You’re going to have to expand that, how we budget, we’re going to have to look at that.”
No action was taken on the issue during the meeting, but it was decided that Duggan will continue to look into options.
One of those would be encumbering funds for a future overhaul of the entire system in anticipation of directives that come down from the state, an issue outside of the hands of Lyon County officials who are concerned with what’s best for local residents.
If they were to spend money now on a new system, a state decision could determine that the system, no matter how up-to-date, wouldn’t meet standards.
“My concern is that I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we just brought together a consolidated dispatch center that has exceeded its physical hardware capabilities for expansion,” Beck said. “We’ve gotta put this at the priority as far as expansion. Because I’d hate for our hands to be tied as far as capabilities as we move forward with this.”
Aside from the radios, repeaters and other equipment, the paging system in the county has its own problems that Duggan has been looking into and troubleshooting.
“They walked me through the system, they couldn’t find anything obvious with the settings, but it’s not working,” Duggan said. “I don’t have an answer yet, I’m not pleased with it, I don’t like how it’s working.
“I’ve got some good dispatchers that are still having paging issues, so I don’t think it’s a personnel issue. I’m still working on that.”
Overall, the consensus was that more information needs to be gather before the board makes the decision to approach the county commission with a request to overhaul or update the current system.