As the county looks to upgrade its public safety communication radio system, South Rockdale Civic Association attempted to shed light on the dense but important topic of public safety communications standards in a forum on Nov. 15.
The panel of public safety communication industry representatives included
Charlie Powell of Pros RF, David Chapman of ARINC, Mike Lunebach of Harris Corporation, John Oblak of EF Johnson Technologies, Bruce Earp of Secom Systems, George Thames of Motorola, and Marty Christensen of Cassidian. The panel was moderated by Steve Macke, a Rockdale resident and public safety communications consultant.
Rockdale County will partially upgrade its existing radio system with $4.5 million from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. An RFP was recently canceled due to technical errors, and a new RFP will be issued by the county.
Long before September 11, the public safety communications world knew they had an issue on their hands with the inability of different systems to work together. Unlike the commercial telecommunications world, which had developed a standardized back end, the public safety communications world had splintered into many proprietary systems. To address this, the industry and federal government came together starting in the 1980s to develop a set of standards, now called P25.
The panelists advised that P25 should be viewed as a reference document. Request for Proposals should be carefully written to make sure the county was comparing apples to apples.
“It may be the difference in one more tower or less. That’s why the RFP has got to be specific. It’s a starting point,” said Lunebach.
The P25 standards allow for a wide range of options. “With that flexible a system, we have to be very diligent,” said Thames
Chapman said frankly, “We can overwhelm you with knowledge… Most jurisdictions don’t have the expertise to overcome us.”
“If you get help, do your due diligence,” said Thames. “Not all consultants are same. Each customer has to find someone who lines up their priorities.” He advised potential customers to contact other counties around them to find out if what they used worked for them.
Bill Hughey, who chairs the SPLOST Oversight subcommittee for 911 communications, said the forum was worthwhile, even though there wasn’t anything he hadn’t already heard before.
“I would like to have seen the people who use it; 911 people from various counties. Those guys were selling their products… In the end it’s what does it do for the people who use and operate the system.”
“I think the biggest thing that came out of it for me was making sure it meets the needs of your users. That you have good customer service; that the people are going to be there.”
He added, “I think people keep forgetting this is not a new system. This is an upgrade for a system that we’ve already invested $4 million.”