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6/14/2017 3:33:00 PM
Council Updated On Joint Radio Effort

Local News Editor
Covington City Police Chief J.B. Broughman presented an update on the possible implementation of a joint radio system for the city of Covington and Alleghany County during a Tuesday meeting of city council.

Also Tuesday, council appointed a new school board member to fill the seat Dizzy Garten will vacate at the end of the month.

Tamala Preston received three votes for the post, while Ron Leichter got one vote.
“I appreciate the opportunity to give council an update,” Broughman said before presenting his PowerPoint on the joint radio system proposal.

Broughman began his presentation by stating that area radio coverage has always been difficult.

The opening slide in his PowerPoint touched on the fact that Alleghany County and Covington rely heavily on one another for mutual aid assistance.

Another fact the opening slide touched on is that personnel from each locality have to carry multiple portable devices and multiple moble devices in vehicles to communicate due to operating on different frequency bands.

Broughman then talked about interoperability by saying, “Interoperability is key to mutual aid.”

Broughman stated that interoperability for mutual aid and radio use would be simplified if Alleghany County and Covington were operating on the same radio system.

A list of radio issues for Covington was then presented to council.

Among those issues were that Covington First Responders have to switch frequencies when traveling past Island Ford Bridge. Covington Rescue must switch during each trip to LewisGale Hospital Alleg-hany, and Covington Fire/ Rescue must switch frequencies when responding to crashes past Island Ford Bridge. Few areas exist where portable radios have weaker coverage due to trees being full of leaves.

After focusing on Covington’s radio issues, the county’s radio issues were then discussed.

The county issues include a need to increase the radio coverage area for responders; county law enforcement operates on a different system than that of county fire/rescue, and county and city law enforcement have compatible radio systems, but county fire/rescue work on separate systems.

The final batch of issues that were presented were the joint radio system issues that exist.

Those joint issues were that different systems for county and city fire/rescue agencies limit and/or prohibits radio communications including, but not limited to, requiring additional steps for on-scene units to speak with different agencies and requiring additional steps for communication centers.

After Broughman talked about the current radio issues, he gave the basics of the current proposal for a joint radio system.

The first item on the proposal was that the coverage area would be increased to 90 percent of the county.

“That is what I was reminded is a guarantee,” Broughman said.

Broughman continued about the 90 percent coverage area by saying, “The way that they are going to do that of course is by increasing the number of towers in places to be able to bring those communications up.”

Broughman continued discussing the proposed joint radio system by informing council that this system will provide seamless radio communications for Alleghany County and Covington fire/rescue and law enforcement.

The joint radio system will also be able to provide seamless dispatch center communications operations and in the case of an emergency, one center can provide some radio coverage for the other center.

After covering the details within the proposal, Broughman then posed a question by asking, “Do we participate?”

“The present radio system for the city can continue. I want you [council] to know, we can continue to provide existing radio coverage without moving to the proposed system. We can stay where we are,” Broughman said.

Broughman continued, “I don’t think we should stay where we’re at.”

Broughman then gave a scenario on what would happen if the current radio system were to stay in use.

That scenario would be that a lack of interoperable communications for mutual aid operations would exist.

Later in the presentation, Broughman stated that Alleghany County is planning to proceed in a timely manner to get this new radio system.

Broughman also emphasized that if the city chooses to wait, the city will face a loss of interoperable communications and the city would not be able to operate with seamless communications.

To conclude the presentation, Broughman discussed the financial details of getting this radio system.

“I recommend that the city participate with the county in negotiating the costs to enter this proposal,” Broughman said.

In a slide about the finances in Broughman’s presentation, it said that Covington will look to pay for equipment and system directly associated with what Covington needs.

A starting estimated price that Covington would need to spend is $1,585,895.

Another key financial component is that Alleghany County and Covington would look to share the costs of the Smith-Dew Tower 50/50.

A final financial point that was presented was that costs and details of continuous maintenance would need to be negotiated.

It was then stated that once the cost to Covington was determined, consideration of the radio system could be completed.

Broughman said should Covington decide to move forward, they would be able to determine the financial road to take to acquire this new radio system.

If there is any indication given that the proposal would be accepted, a public hearing would need to take place 30 days prior, which the county plans to do in the fall.

After the presentation, city council unanimously approved to enter negotiations for a joint radio system.

In the school board appointment, Preston received votes from Mayor Tom Sibold, Raymond Hunter and Allan Tucker. Leichter received a vote from Vice Mayor David Crosier.

Councilman Bill Zimmerman abstained from the vote.

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