County radio communications explained

Published 11:40 am Wednesday, January 9, 2019

First responder radio communications in Charlotte County move forward the discussion following the decision to go out with a request for proposal (RFP) regarding a UHF Radio Communications System.

According to Charlotte County’s Sheriff Thomas D. Jones, a communications committee was formed about a year ago to come up with the RFP and put the project out for bid.

“ … eight companies responded to it …” said Jones.

He said the communities committee is expected to bring the matter before the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors Wednesday at their regular monthly meeting.

He said the prospective companies previously came to tour the 911 center and look at the building/towers.

Ultimately, Jones said two companies responded with proposals.

He said the companies had 90 days to respond back on the RFP.

Jones said another 90 days have been spent working on committee meetings and covering pertinent information pertaining to the matter.

According to County Administrator Daniel Witt at a December meeting of the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors, staff and legal counsel suggested the project go back out to bid, however, the communications committee rejected the suggestion.

Interviews were conducted Sept. 25 and a list of follow-up questions were sent after the interviews.

At the December Supervisors meeting, Witt said the committee requested the staff go back to the two bidders and provide a list of questions.

“This is very disturbing to me that a committee that was appointed has rejected staff’s recommendation and legal counsel’s recommendation,” said Wylliesburg/Red Oak Supervisor Kay Pierantoni previously. “That is very disturbing to me.”

At that time, she said radio communications in the county was going to be a huge expense.

“When we talk about we can’t do this and we can’t do that, and I’m not saying that radios aren’t needed, but this committee was not elected. This committee was appointed by someone and to reject staff’s and legal counsel’s is serious …” said Pierantoni previously.

At that time, she said the Supervisors needed to take some action.

Jones said staff recommendations have not been ignored.

“Somewhere along the line, somebody requested an opinion from the County Attorney I think,” Jones said.

He said that the County Attorney did not say the process needed to be stopped and the project needed to go back out to bid from what he understood.

He said the only concern was it might be a problem that only two companies responded out of eight to the RFP and the committee might want to consider rebidding the project.

“I don’t even have a copy of the Attorney’s opinion …” said Jones. “Nobody has told us to stop everything. They just mentioned that kind of casually to the committee that the lawyer had sent his opinion in and we might want to rebid it.”

County Seat Supervisor Gary Walker said previously the Supervisors would wait for the committee report, however, it is the responsibility of the Supervisors to ensure it is done the right way and legally.

Jones said the communications committee has done everything correctly, the way they were supposed to.

Jones said full committee meetings are held open to the public.

“We’ve done everything the way we were told to do it …” he said.

Jones said the radios have been looked at for many years.

“Somebody could lose their lives out there …” he said.

Jones said there are so many dead zones in the county that officers sometimes do not know if portable radio communications will be available when exiting the vehicle.

“The majority of their work is out of the vehicle …” he said. “It’s a serious situation that’s been put off for many, many years now.”

At the November Supervisors meeting, Saxe/Bacon District Supervisor Royal Freeman said the issues not only affect law enforcement, but it affects rescue squad workers and the fire department as well.

At that time, Aspen/ Phenix Supervisor Donna Fore said, “How much longer do we wait before some catastrophe … because the law enforcement and first responders cannot call each other and coordinate a response for that victim. That’s what we’re at right now, at least in my district. That’s what will happen. Someone will not get proper care in a timely manner because the first responders cannot talk to each other and coordinate a response to that victim.”

Jones said at this point, one of the two companies has been selected and the matter will be brought before the Board of Supervisors.

Communications Committee Chair Howard Hobgood said one of the main concerns is no communications in the county.

He said the fire service is missing calls because they are not getting them on their pagers.

“When the FCC came in back in 2013 and mandated a narrowing of the bands it really cut communications down,” said Hobgood.

He said there is one repeater at the Sheriff’s Office, one in Red Oak for fire service and one in Red House.

“It’s a lot of gaps because of the lay of the land,” said Hobgood. “That’s what everything is trying to address …”

He said the communications committee has tried to come up with their solution.

Jones said for the portable radios, there are dead spots all over the county.

“All we’re trying to do is protect these guys,” he said.

Jones said he’d like to see something done.

Hobgood said the system being looked at is a trunk system and will include police, fire, EMS and the school system.

“The school system is on the same system,” he said.

Hobgood said that would put everyone in communication if necessary and hopefully take it into the next 20- 25 years.

“We think it’s a great idea,” he said.

Jones said the project would take another year if it was to go back out to bid.

He said there is no need to rebid the project because everything has been done legally. “We’ve made the best decision we thought we could make …” said Jones.