Commissioners aim to improve radio communication system

SIDNEY – The Shelby County commissioners will continue to review and study possible options to improve the county’s radio communication system after hearing presentations and receiving feedback from first responders.

Shelby County emergency medical services chiefs, fire chiefs, police chiefs and village administrators heard a presentation Aug. 6 reviewing the findings of a recently completed study on the county’s radio communications systems. MCM Consulting Group, of State College, Pennsylvania, explained the status of the county’s current system, operational performance issues and future challenges.

The study included on-site field evaluations and testing, and input from surveys of the county’s first responders. Meetings with a focus group of first responders and administrators followed the fieldwork.

On-going operational issues and aging equipment led the Board of Commissioners to have the study completed to identify both immediate and future needs so a long-range plan could be developed.

“Most of the county’s current infrastructure is over 50 years old, and the county has added to the system over the years to meet the needs of our first responders,” Commissioner Julie Ehemann said.

However, one of the more challenging issues facing the county is narrowbanding. In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission required public safety and industrial radio frequencies to narrow their bandwidth from 25 kHz to 12.5 kHz.

“While the narrowbanding was intended to make the radio frequencies less congested, the result has been a significantly reduced signal strength and quality,” Commissioner Bob Guillozet said. “This makes our system less reliable and at times, the radio transmissions are difficult to hear.”

He also said repair parts are becoming more difficult to obtain for the aging equipment, and newer equipment will be digital, which will not be compatible with the county’s analog equipment.

Commissioner Tony Bornhorst said the commissioners are committed to improving the radio communication system.

“We cannot thank the first responders enough for the service they provide to our citizens,” he said. “The radio is a critical piece of equipment for them and we are working on finding a workable solution as quickly as we can.”