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County OKs technology upgrades

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GREENFIELD — Public safety officials hope glitches with their radios will be a thing of the past with the upcoming purchase of new communications technology.

Hancock County Commissioners on Tuesday approved the purchase of hardware and software to improve communication with 800 MHz radios.

The last few years, police and fire departments throughout the county have been switching to the higher-frequency 800 MHz radios to improve communications not only with each other but with departments throughout the state. But sometimes, communication is lost between officers and the central dispatch center.

“Our main concern is that officers can communicate with us,” said Connie Hoy, director of the Emergency Operations Center. “We need to be there for them if they need any assistance.”

The problem is called “site trunking,” and it occurs when one radio tower temporarily fails, explained Hancock County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Rasche. Officers can talk to each other with their radios, but they cannot reach the EOC.

Officers still have old, lower-frequency radios in their cars that can be used to reach the EOC. Rasche said the occasional problem hasn’t resulted in life-threatening delays.

“It’s a weird, lonely feeling when you can’t get in to dispatch or you can’t get to anybody,” Rasche said. “We’ve tried different things to make the new system work right. When it doesn’t work, we just go back to the old system. (There’s) no reason for the community to worry about it. It’s more of an inconvenience for us.”

Hoy stressed that even though it has only been an inconvenience so far, there’s a risk that site trunking could lead to a serious communications problem in the future.

She hopes the issue will be greatly reduced or eliminated with the purchase of the new software and hardware. A satellite dish will be added to a Pendleton communications tower to improve communication for Hancock County.

“It will eliminate connectivity problems and improve radio communications,” Hoy said.

The total cost of the Motorola equipment is $48,934. Hancock County received a state grant for $20,000 of that cost; the EOC’s budget will foot the rest of the bill.

Commissioners had questions about the budget for the project. The equipment won’t be installed until early next year. Hoy said she has the money in her budget for the project this year, but because of the way governments are required to operate, the work must be completed and a bill presented before payment can be made.

Also, department budgets typically do not roll over to the next year.

Auditor Robin Lowder said the county can hold over funds for the project to next year. Hoy said she will make a formal request to the county council next month to enable payment when the project is finished.

Hoy said while public safety officials have been trying to improve 800 MHz radios, this is a big step that’s been a year in the making.

She added that people who own 800 MHz scanners should not have to make any change with the new technology. Rather, communication there should also be enhanced.

“This is just one step further in getting the reliable communication,” Hoy said.

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