The Dodge County Board of Supervisors during its Wednesday morning meeting listened to discussion regarding the state of the public safety radio system used in Dodge County.
No action was taken, simply, a presentation was given by Shelly Holzerland, head of communications for Fremont and Dodge County, and a representative of Motorola Solutions, to speak about what they hope the future of the public safety radio system in Dodge County will be.
The goal, Holzerland said, is to move Dodge County law enforcement, first responders, firefighters and others onto the 800 MHz radio system called ORION. The City of Fremont moved to the system in 2016, and its provided Fremont Police and Fremont Fire Department with far better radio connection and communication with other first responders and agencies.
Holzerland spoke about how since two-way radios came into existence, Dodge County has had multiple radio systems for different public safety agencies.
“The Fremont Police had its own system, the Dodge County Sheriff had its, and each fire department has their own radio repeaters and antennas across the county, all on different frequencies,” she said. “This worked pretty well when agencies were working alone, in their own areas. But two things have happened that have caused the radio systems to decline in performance.”
First, Holzerland said that the Federal Communications Commission made requirements which narrowbanded frequencies. As of January 2013, all public safety agencies and others were required to narrowband their frequencies.
“Narrowbanding is a process to make better use of the finite radio spectrum,” she said. “It works by using technology to reduce the amount of space or bandwidth a radio signal needs to operate on the spectrum. It’s like being able to park more cars in a parking lot by repainting the lines closer together.
“Narrowbanding of analog radio systems causes a loss of coverage, and our radio coverage across the county was severely affected. Simply put, where we once had coverage we now don’t.”
After the City of Fremont went live with ORION, a committee was formed, comprised of the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office, rural fire departments and Hozerland, which worked with Motorola Solutions to formulate a plan for the rest of Dodge County.
Holzerland said that currently, the DCSO radios have an antenna across the Platte River in Saunders County, and one at the Scribner Airfield; which she said does not provide adequate coverage for the whole county.
“They (deputies) get out of their vehicles on their portables and are at times virtually unreadable,” Holzerland said. “The dispatch center has to ask for repeats two, three, and four times, and frequently has to resort to a cell phone call … They struggle to hear each other as they are responding to emergencies, and that is a dangerous situation for them.”
In addition to law enforcement, each rural fire department has its own repeater and antenna, and in many cases, that does not provide them with coverage over their entire response area, Holzerland said. Frequently, departments will get to fire calls and cannot talk back to dispatch at all.
“In August, Winslow Fire responded to a house fire in the east part of their fire district, which is actually in Washington County,” Holzerland said. “They could not hear or talk to dispatch, and they could not talk to each other. And Arlington was there helping them, but on their own radio system, so they couldn’t talk to Arlington either.”
The proposed system would solve many of these problems, she said.
While you can’t put a price on public safety, implementing the new system would cost upward of $10.2 million. Four towers would be installed costing $4.1 million, radio expenses would cost $2.6 million, site equipment would cost $3.6 million and a microwave ring would cost $1.8 million.
Lon Strand, District 3 Supervisor, said that while he completely agrees changes need to happen with the current system, he’s disappointed that it feels like the City of Fremont’s action locked Dodge County into an agreement with Motorola Solutions.
“My biggest problem is that this could be the biggest financial endeavor that our county’s every done,” he said. “And we can’t go out for bids because Fremont has already decided that this is our provider. And nothing against Fremont, but we are mandated to get bids on things, and we can’t bid this because there is one provider, and that really bothers me. I can’t verbalize it enough how disappointed I am.”
There is no set time frame in regard to when the Board may take action on this proposal.