(TNS) — BUNNELL — Flagler County commissioners this week approved a plan to install five emergency telecommunications towers as part of a public safety radio system overhaul.
Officials plan to upgrade the county's aging emergency communications network that serves as the primary means for law enforcement, firefighters, EMS and dispatchers to communicate through two-way radios. The county currently operates on an 8-channel enhanced digital access communications, or EDACS, system that receives more than 3 million communications each year.
Flagler officials intend to mount five 800-mHz towers on county-owned property and replace the 8-channel system with a 10-channel network aimed at boosting reliability, especially in areas of the county that have spotty coverage. County commissioners approved special land uses and zoning variances for the five new towers during Monday's meeting.
"Recent hurricanes, maintenance and repair efforts have caused significant concern with respect to the integrity of existing towers," Jarrod Shupe, the county's information technology director, wrote in a letter to commissioners leading up to Monday's vote. "The new towers will be self-supporting, therefore not requiring any guy/wire lines, as well as they will be built to withstand wind loads in excess of 140 mph."
Shupe has helped serve as architect for the county's move to a new radio system. He presented those plans to commissioners during a Nov. 13 workshop where he laid out the timetable that proposes to have the new towers built next year, and the new system fully implemented by fall 2019.
The county does not plan to publically release any cost etimates for the project until after vendors submit bids in January or February.
Project 25, or P25, is the new phase 2 network produced by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, an international organization based in Daytona Beach.
All five towers will be built on county-owned land. Each will be a self-supporting tower with a three-sided tripod configuration capped with 25-foot lightning rods. They will also be built to withstand Category 5 storm winds.
A new 250-foot tower is planned near the Interstate 95 interchange at Matanzas Woods Parkway. New 350-foot towers also will be built in Bunnell. One site is 7570 County Road 304 near State Road 11. The other is on 25 acres of land the county recently purchased for $625,0000 with plans to build a new fire station to serve the west side of the county.
A replacement 215-foot tower will be built near the county jail complex on Justice Lane. And a new 190-foot tower is poised for Old Dixie Highway in southern Flagler. That tower met resistance as some Plantation Bay residents sent county officials letters expressing safety concerns of "microwave radiating antennae" from a telecommunications tower so close to their homes.
There have also been talks of a sixth communications tower. That 160-foot replacement tower on the campus of Flagler's municipal complex at 1769 E. Moody Blvd was not included in Monday's list of zoning variances.
Flagler's current countywide system serves the county government, the Sheriff's Office, Flagler County Fire Rescue, police and fire departments in Bunnell and Flagler Beach, as well as administrative departments in Palm Coast and Bunnell, such as public works and code enforcement. The initial cost to install the equipment and infrastructure was more than $10 million, and the county issued an $11.3 million bond to fund the project in 2004.
The EDACS system is set to expire in 2021. The new APCO system will provide redundancy and backups to fend off system failures, and will also more than double the capacity for "talk paths" on which users can communicate. It will also include digital noise cancelling and voice encryption technologies to provide clearer audio.
County officials said the new system will also allow Flagler to integrate better with public safety communication networks used in Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties.
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