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FCC radio mandate triggers school-system shift

POSTED: March 31, 2012 7:00 a.m.

To comply with an FCC regulation that requires all public safety and industrial communications to convert their radios to digital format, the Liberty County Board of Education voted Tuesday to build its own private network.

Tony Norce, director of transportation, prompted the discussion with a memo and information about the federal mandate, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.

“The simplest analogy: Right now, we are under an umbrella of radio coverage that is minimal with our system,” he said. “If you’ve ever heard our radio system in the morning, besides controlled chaos, it’s static, cracking, asking three or four times ‘Please come back, please come back.’ We have an antiquated system that we’re trying to run 140 buses on.”

Schools also rely on radios for in-school communication, dialogue with administrators and communication between schools and transportation, he said.

To combat the current issues and bring the district into compliance, Norce presented three options to the board.

The first, narrow banding the existing equipment, would cost an estimated $237,992 but would have reduced audio quality, leave some areas of the county beyond the reach of the radios and still would be a congested system.

“This is the lowest-cost system, but what we would get is the system we have but in worse condition than we currently have,” Norce said, adding transportation currently runs 250-280 radios on a single channel, where the FCC recommends running 100 radios per channel.

The second option, joining the Southeast Georgia Regional Radio Network (SEGARRN), would cost an estimated $813,765 and would provide optimal coverage that allows the transportation department to communicate with area first-responders and on a region-wide range with potential for expansion.

In 2010, Liberty County authorized construction of a radio tower on Airport Road to allow police, fire, sheriff and emergency medical departments at the state and local levels to communicate with each other throughout the region. Joining SEGARRN would require the LCSS to link in to the county’s tower and building on Airport Road. Under the program, the district would have its own channel that underrates under the county’s system.

The staff recommendation was the third option: establishing a $475,860 private network that would solve existing coverage problems, enhance audio quality and capacity and allow data encryption.

Under the private-network scenario, the district still will use the county’s building, but will install its own equipment.

The system also requires the district to pay a nominal amount of upkeep fees toward the county tower.

Savannah Communications radio specialist and consultant Wade Britt was present to address board member questions about technology.

The board approved the staff recommendation to build a private network.

Britt said that attaching to the county system would run about two months, while establishing a private system would take about four months. He cautioned the board not to wait on the decision, because the company keeps getting more orders as the deadline nears.

The board also addressed concerns about communications on out-of-county trips or in the event of an emergency. Assistant Superintendent Mary Alexander said there are ways to patch communications between the systems in the event of an emergency, and that drivers often carry cell phones on them.

The board also approved the following bids for furniture and supplies for the interior of the Liberty College and Career Academy.

• A $108,989.16 bid from Georgia Specialty Equipment for classroom furniture

• A $ 49,027.61 bid from VIP Office Furniture & Supplies for office furniture

• A $40,173.10 bid from Total Office Solutions Inc. for computer storage and furnishings

 

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