EMA Commission Continues Radio Discussion

Mahaska County Emergency Management

Mahaska County Emergency Management

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The Mahaska County Emergency Management Commission held a meeting to continue the discussion about a proposed radio system to replace the current radio system used by first responders county wide.

Before the agenda was approved, Vice-Chair and Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk asked that a public comments section be added to the agenda. The motion was passed to add the public comments to the agenda.

Mahaska County Emergency Management Administrator Jamey Robinson said that the communication committee that is helping to steer the requirements for the new system was proposing a 90% coverage requirement for the new radio system.

That 90% would be for portable indoor coverage county-wide.

As coverage percentage increases, so do costs, and the committee thought that percentage of coverage would allow for more coverage than now while holding costs down for the taxpayer.

Robinson said that the committee has also asked that Elert include a request to see what a 95% portable coverage system would cost.

Water tower locations have been included for consideration in the RFP [Request for Proposal], which may ultimately help reduce costs for the system. Many of those water tower locations already have fiber-optic cables running to them, which may reduce the need for microwave transmitters.

Mahaska County Sheriff and Chair of the Emergency Management Commission Russ Van Renterghem said that the committee has also been working on scoring for the RFP for bids returned by vendors.

“When will this body be able to look at the RFP,” asked Vice-Chair Groenendyk, who was concerned about who was paying for the RFP, since “the agreement went sideways” with the county board of supervisors.

Legal counsel informed both the board of supervisors and the EMA commission that the county can’t own the radio system and that the EMA commission was responsible for it.

Groenendyk was curious as to who the RFP was going to be for, the supervisors or the commission, because the supervisors had originally paid the $15,000 for the RFP.

Robinson said he will investigate if the money paid for the RFP needs to be repaid to the supervisors before bonding and if the RFP needs to be changed to the EMA commission.
“If it’s a problem, we’ll figure something out,” Van Renterghem said to Groenendyk.

Robinson then outlined some steps the commission can do to help improve communications now, without wasting money and resources.

Right now, some channels are using leased copper lines, and during testing this past week, staff was able to hear the local radio station when they keyed the microphone. “Copper lines are obsolete,” added Robinson.

The communications committee has suggested that maybe a new tower be built ahead of the whole radio system, going from 180 foot to 250 foot or more, along with removing the leased copper lines and moving towards a microwave system would help area responders better communicate until the new system is completed.

Those items like the new tower and microwave system would already be a part of the updated radio system, and wouldn’t add additional cost to the project, but could benefit first responders in the meantime.

“It’s a lot better option than putting money into something we know we’re going to throw away,” said commission member Tom Walling.

Van Renterghem told the commission he would like to see Robinson start the research into the possibility of building the new tower and microwave transmitters, as a first step to helping responders in the county. “It doesn’t mean we have to commit to it at this point.”

Groenendyk said that the records need to show that our receiving site has never been tested. “I do have a major concern about spending $500,000.00 to a million dollars, and we choose a site and tell everybody else to build around it when it could be used optimally used 5 or 8 miles in a different direction.”

Groenendyk believes it may be better to just install new antennas and coax cable at the current tower location for the next two years. “Live with what we have. I think we’re much better wiser spent without money and let someone figure out the cost for a new antenna and line up if it’s worth the money for two years. Live with what we have. I think we’re going to be a lot wiser spent and a real engineer can figure out where to place our site at. And so we have something permanently for the long run instead of this we choose, build here no matter the cost.”

Robinson said he spoke with Elert about that subject, and Elert said it wouldn’t be any different than if the contractors were going to use the current tower for the new system. “There has to be one main tower in Osky and they felt like that was a nice central location.”

The new tower would also have to be reachable, for microwave communications, from the current law center.

Groenendyk said that there would be cost with moving to a new tower and he would rather “Elert is the people that did our study. I’m not sure it’s going to be accurate now since we found out our system wasn’t working properly. But I think Racom and Motorola are going to be the experts to say this is the best way to build a system and this is the best place for the sites and get the best money for our buck. I think we’re much wiser saying, let’s just wait to see what they have to say.”

The representative from New Sharon questioned Groenendyk about his thoughts, saying that they listen to the experts and not those who are selling a product. “I see Elert as being that same type of service for us [commission].”

Walling made a motion to proceed into looking at the ability of a new tower in Oskaloosa to know more data. “I think most of us are anxious to get started.”

The motion was met with a second for the EMA Administrator Jamey Robinson to begin the process of looking into the possibility of constructing a new tower, to be located at the EMA building in Oskaloosa.

Steve Wanders from the Mahaska County Farm Bureau, blurting out from the audience, questioned Robinson about the difference between fiber optic and microwave connections to the communications towers. “Why would you even use fiber optic when you have microwavable?”

Meyers answered the question from Wanders by saying that there are some issues with microwave, such as FCC clearance, an established path, and also having to insure you don’t interfere with anyone else. “Fiber optic has it’s pro’s and con’s as well.”

Robinson said the thought was to do a little bit of both, fiber and microwave.

Wanders said he has fiber optic going by his house, “pheasant hunters shoot it all the time.”

“[inaudible] Shoot the sh*t out of it for the fun of it,” said Wanders.

The next meeting of the Mahaska County Emergency Management Commission is scheduled for September 21st.

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Posted by on Sep 1 2017. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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