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Knox County, Tenn., Upgrades Emergency Communication Network

The county has renegotiated with Motorola to install a new digital 911 system and replace the analog system from 1985.

(TNS) -- Three years after beginning the process to obtain a new digital radio system, the Knox County E-911 Board of Directors on Tuesday unanimously approved an $8.7 million contract with Motorola Solutions.

Ironically, Motorola's December 2013 proposal to provide Knox County's E-911 Center with a radio system was deemed nonresponsive to the needs of emergency agencies. An evaluation committee found Motorola's proposal as the weakest of three submissions.

The E-911 board of directors is meeting at the E-911 Center on Bernard Avenue and approved a contract produced after negotiations by Knox County Director of Purchasing Hugh Holt.

"Through Hugh Holt's efforts, we've saved several million dollars," Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said Monday before today's board meeting.

"He's an expert at these things," said Burchett, who serves on the board.

Motorola critics repeatedly have referenced potential hidden costs and change orders that boost the price of a system significantly beyond the original contract. Burchett, however, said he was confident Holt "and his staff have carefully reviewed the contract for that."

"The safety of our emergency workers is the main thing," he said.

If approved by the 11-member board of directors, Knox County moves closer to joining the Tennessee Valley Regional Communications System based in Chattanooga. The board earlier this month approved joining the regional system, which operates on Motorola equipment.

Holt said Motorola honored discounts on equipment purchases even though the company's June 30 deadline to sign a contract to get the price reductions had passed.

"We got all the discounts," Holt said Monday. "We got close to $7 million in reductions off the state contract. It's an average of 25 percent in cost reductions."

Motorola, as well as other radio providers, has contracts with the state offering discounts on radios, programming and system equipment.

Holt said if he bought Knox County's new system under the state contract, the cost would have been $13,051,459, with another $3.7 million required for equipment and programming to partner with the regional system.

Under discounts negotiated by Holt and Jay Garrison, procurement coordinator, the radio system costs will total $7.3 million. The seven-year maintenance contract, which includes system upgrades and assures daily operation of the system, added $1.4 million to the contract, Holt said.

Holt said installation of the digital system will take 14 to 15 months. Each of Knox County's five radio sites will be examined to assure towers are capable of holding new equipment.

There are no monetary damages in the contract for missed deadlines, but Holt said no payments will be made to Motorola until installation milestones are reached. In addition, Holt structured the payment schedule to withhold money until the system is completed.

"I'm holding back 25 percent of the contract until the system is online and accepted," he said.

Alan Bull, interim executive director of the E-911 Center, said questions about the Motorola system's ability to meet the needs of emergency agencies have been answered. The User's Committee had submitted questions to Motorola and requested clarification on some items before approving the system.

"They have signed off on the system and it meets all their needs," Bull said.

Joining the regional radio system will be an incremental process, Bull said.

"It's not just a matter of flipping a switch," he said.

As Knox County radios join the regional system, emergency agencies will pay $42.80 annually to Chattanooga for each radio. Chattanooga oversees operation of the regional system that also is governed by a five-member executive committee. Knox County has about 4,800 radios on its system.

The new digital system will replace the analog system installed in 1985 by Motorola. That system is outdated and hard to repair because of a lack of replacement parts.

Holt in 2013 oversaw a transparent procurement process in which the E-911 Center solicited bids for a new radio system. That process resulted in Harris Corp. selected as the best proposal for Knox County emergency workers.

Holt negotiated with Harris to settle upon an $8.9 million radio system.

But some board members — especially Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones and Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch — privately worked to thwart awarding the contract to Harris.

Jones especially expressed a preference for Motorola radios and equipment. It was Jones who suggested Knox County partner with the Tennessee Valley Regional Communications System, which is equipped with Motorola equipment, radios and programs.

©2016 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.