New radio system to be fully operational by late June

HILLSDALE — Cole Vathauer and his crew with Hayden Tower Service Inc. worked to put the finishing touches on an equipment building at the site of a future 250-foot tower on Harmony Road that will be one of the key links in the county’s new 800 megahertz emergency radio system.

Vathauer, site supervisor, said Thursday, Jan. 21, a different crew should begin stacking the tower in the coming days. The tower is located next to Miami County Rural Water District No. 2’s operations on Harmony Road near Hillsdale Lake.

One day earlier, Dennis Ward, senior project manager with TUSA Consulting Services, told Miami County commissioners Motorola expected to have the 800 MHz radio system fully operational by the end of June.

Commissioners voted in late October 2019 to purchase an 800 MHz radio system from Motorola to replace a dysfunctional VHF radio system that has caused nothing but headaches for dispatchers and first responders across the county. The cost of the system, site development for the towers and a $500,000 contingency reserve brought the total to approximately $8.5 million.

Once completed, the 800 MHz radio system will be used by first responders with all the agencies in the county.

The conditions of the VHF system had deteriorated to the point where the County Commission declared a state of emergency in August 2019 to seek immediate assistance from the state, which put up a temporary, mobile signal tower in the parking lot behind the Louisburg EMS/Fire Department building to shore up communication problems in that community and surrounding area.

The temporary tower remains at the site today.

Ward told commissioners Wednesday the city of Paola will be brought onto the new system by the end of February. The Harmony Road tower should be operational sometime between late March and late April, Ward said. Louisburg, which utilizes the Harmony Road tower, will connect to the system once that tower is functional, he said.

“You’ll have the whole entire north end of the county (on the system),” Ward said of the late March-April projection.

The southern end of the county will rely on a new 250-foot tower to be constructed at Wildwood in southern Miami County. Construction has not yet begun on that tower, which is the final piece of the five-tower system strategically located to form a loop that encompasses the entire county. Beside construction of the Wildwood and Harmony Road towers, the radio system will utilize three existing towers.

Ward said work to get the north end of the county online first was due to the state of emergency declaration tied to the Louisburg radio system.

“We will have a microwave system in place so all the towers talk to each other,” Ward said.

Commissioner Danny Gallagher asked about the strength of the two towers under construction.

“We rated these towers at a 155 mph,” Ward said. “We make these a little more robust because it’s public safety.”

Gallagher noted the tower should be safe — short of being struck by a tornado — but he asked if a tower did go down would that portion of the county be without service.

“It’s not going to be entirely dead, but it will be very degraded,” Ward said. “It’s a simulcast system so if one of those towers goes down the other towers are still broadcasting in that area so they are still going to fill in.

“So instead of having in-building coverage, you might only be able to talk on your car radio or on your portable on the street,” he said.

Once all sites are built, the system will be tested. First responders from sheriff, police, fire and EMS will be involved in the tests with the sheriff’s dispatch center since those agencies are the ones that will use the system on a daily basis, Ward said.

“It’s a grid system, and you’re going to drive every road in the county and test that radio at certain points,” Ward said. “Communication will be graded both ways and on both ends.

“And Motorola has to pass 95 percent of the entire county with this test,” he said.

If the system does not grade out at 95 percent, then Motorola is contractually obligated to fix it, Ward said.

“In six months, Miami County will have a great radio system that everybody will be using and we’re looking forward to that,” Ward said.