Preparedness

Salina, Kansas, Officials Discuss 911 Radio Coverage Problems

City Commissioner Joe Hay Jr. was concerned about the difficulty first responders were having communicating with dispatch.

by Jason Beets, The Salina Journal, Kan. / January 16, 2019

(TNS) — During a study session Monday afternoon, Salina City Commissioners discussed serious problems with the 911 emergency radio system used by Salina and Saline County first responders. The required upgrades could cost up to $16.2 million, according to Saline County Emergency Management Director Hannah Stambaugh.

Stambaugh led the presentation, which was similar to one she gave earlier this month before the Saline County Commission.

Stambaugh played several recent audio clips of first responders in the field unsuccessfully attempting to communicate with Saline County Dispatch, which coordinates the responses of police, firefighters and emergency medical services.

City Commissioner Joe Hay Jr. was concerned about the difficulty first responders were having communicating with dispatch.

"You listen to those dispatch calls and that's scary as hell," he said. "When you can't hear what your responder is saying on the other end, a lot of times that's crucial, and that's a scary situation. I think we need to move this forward as quick as we can, so our first responders out there have got the right equipment, so they can talk to each other. We don't need any blind spots or dead spots. They need to communicate."

Stambaugh said emergency radio coverage in parts of Saline County is very limited or non-existent and that first responders in buildings have difficulty communicating with dispatch. She added one officer had to call dispatch on his cell phone after several unsuccessful attempts to contact them using his radio. She said these coverage problems endanger public safety and the safety of first responders.

Options

Stambaugh discussed three options that officials on the 911 Advisory Board determined would be adequate for the county's needs: The county could join a state emergency radio system already in place, join McPherson County's emergency radio system, or upgrade its own system.

Stambaugh said upgrading Saline County's emergency radio system could cost up to $16.2 million, an estimate that includes 15 years of maintenance costs. The other two options would be only slightly less expensive. Joining the state's radio system could cost $14.2 million, and joining McPherson County's radio system could cost $15.5 million.

City Manager Mike Schrage said Kansas could change the terms of its arrangement with Saline County if the county joined the state's emergency radio system.

Alan Talkington is a consultant with Tusa Consulting Services, a company that created a 293-page report about the problems with Salina and Saline County's emergency radio equipment.

Talkington said partnering with McPherson County would mean Saline County would have its own dispatch center and towers, but Saline County could use servers in McPherson County and two towers McPherson County plans to build near the Saline County border.

City Commissioner Mike Hoppock said he would be reluctant to have Salina and Saline County join another government's emergency radio system.

"We have to have a certain amount of savings not to have control of our own system, I would think," he said. "I don't know what the number would be, but it would have to be fairly significant."

Reactions


Mayor Karl Ryan and Schrage said they were pleased with the work city and county staff have done thus far on the emergency radio project.

"The need is certainly there, and we owe it to our first responders. So I would move the process along as far as we can go," Ryan said.

"I think we have got to talk about how to split the price tag," Ryan added, referring to the question of how to divide the cost of the emergency radio upgrades between the Salina and Saline County commissions.

All five Salina City commissioners attended the presentation; as did Saline County commissioners Bob Vidricksen, Monte Shadwick and Rodger Sparks; 911 Communications Director Wayne Pruitt; County Administrator Rita Deister; Assistant County Administrator Andrew Manley; and County Clerk Jamie Allen.

Police and firefighters who use the 911 radio system to communicate with dispatch also attended the meeting.

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