UNION — The transition to the new narrowband system of radio communication will not be completed until mid-February, according to Union County Sheriff David Taylor.
In 2006, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated that all non-federal public safety licensees operating 25 kHz (wideband) radio systems in the VHF and UHF bands must migrate to 12.5 kHz (narrowband) emissions on or before Jan. 1, 2013.
The Union County Sheriff’s Office, which is over the county’s emergency communications systems, has been working toward a transition to narrowband since 2009, but despite this, Taylor said Wednesday that the process will be not be completed by Jan. 1.
“The FCC has mandated we be narrowbanded by Jan. 1, 2013, but we’re not going to meet that deadline,” Taylor said. “When we go to narrowband we lose radio coverage in the county. What we’ve been told is it may drop to 15 or 20 percent less than what we had now. We had to come up with a plan so that once we went to narrowband we’d be able to provide countywide coverage.
“The plan we came up with has five satellite receiver sites which will operate off of cellphone towers in the Carlisle, Jonesville, Lockhart, Whitmire and Cross Keys areas of the county,” he said. “County council has approved it and this will give us better countywide coverage than we have now.”
The satellite units will be provided by Motorola under a lease-purchase agreement approved by council earlier this year. Council stipulated that the cost of the agreement is not to exceed $805,828.
Taylor said he hopes to have the transition completed by the middle of February, but cautioned that a number of steps in the process remain to be completed.
“We hope to have the system operating by February 14, 2013,” Taylor said. “All the equipment has been purchased under state contract and Diversified Electronics Inc. will be doing the installation.
“We have gotten all but one of the tower leases and contracts signed and confirmed,” he said. “That’s been a stumbling block because you’re dealing with so many different cell tower companies. It’s just made it a slow process.”
Taylor said the next step is getting power for the receivers.
“We’ve now got to install power with different power companies,” Taylor said. “Some have Duke Energy, some have Lockhart Power, some have Broad River. We’ve got to get power to all these sites and we’re in the process of doing that.”
Taylor said any and all construction that takes place at the sites will have to meet the approval of the tower site engineers.
Inclement weather could also delay implementation of the system.
“One of the the other factors that could interfere is the weather,” Taylor said. “You can’t do this in inclement weather, you can’t climb the towers and do the work in bad weather.”
Taylor said another reason for the delay is that the transition process did not get under way until three years after the FCC handed down its mandate.
“We’ve know about this since 2006 and it was one of the first things dumped in my lap when I became sheriff in 2009,” Taylor said. “I found that no progress had been made and so we’ve been working on this since then, especially since Mr. Sinclair was appointed county supervisor. He and I worked closely on this because it doesn’t just affect the sheriff’s office, it affects county fire and EMS and Emergency Preparedness and county road maintenance.”
Taylor said he has sent a request to the FCC asking for an extension on the Jan. 1 deadline. He said he has not heard back from the FCC but has heard that the agency will probably not take any enforcement action on the matter until the middle of 2013.
“I have heard they will not take any enforcement action for at least six months into 2013,” Taylor said. “We still want to get it done as soon as possible though and not later than February 14, 2013.”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.