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Towers up at old airport, in Midway
Public safety communications equipment update progressing
0209 Tower 2 web
Workers climb the west tower near the old airport site. It will allow for clearer public safety communications throughout the county. - photo by Lewis Levine

The update of the public safety communications equipment is coming along as expected, according to county officials.

"It is progressing at about the same pace we would have hoped. The towers will be completed in the coming weeks. We are hopeful we will have completed testing and moved to the new system by mid to late summer, well in advance of the January 1, 2013 deadline," said Tom Wahl, director of Liberty County Public Safety Communications.

"In general, the tower at the west end is now complete and we’re progressing at a relatively good pace."

The regional system will allow police, fire, sheriff and emergency medical departments at the state and local levels to communicate with each other throughout the entire region, Wahl said.

The cost was covered by SPLOST funds, including building, erecting and supporting the tower, County Administrator Joey Brown said in an earlier report. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant and SPLOST will help in part with the new radio equipment that public safety responders are required to have.

According to an earlier report, the director of Liberty County Public Safety Communications said that the

radio signals throughout the county were patchy, which often inconvenienced responders who couldn’t get a signal in order to call for backup.

In 2004, the Federal Communications Commission mandated that all public safety communication networks switch to narrowbanding operations by Jan. 1, 2013, to ensure reliable communications for first responders. After that date, any licenses not operating on the correct system will be in violation of the FCC rule and "could be subject to FCC enforcement action, which may include admonishment, monetary fines or loss of license," the FCC website states.

The new upgrade will mean that those who frequently listen to their private police scanners will need to upgrade their own equipment as well, Wahl said.

"Public safety radio communications will be moving to the 700MHz portion of the radio spectrum," Wahl said. "The system is digital and uses trunking (frequency sharing) technology. Folks wishing to monitor the radio traffic will need a scanner capable of receiving these broadcasts."

As a member of the Southeast Georgia Regional Radio Network, Liberty County was able to partner on several grant applications that have resulted in $2.4 million to fund new equipment and the construction of towers at the old county airport site and at Coastal EMC in Midway, according to a news release from the Public Safety Communications office.

These towers will provide coverage for Liberty County and link systems in Bryan, Chatham, Effingham and Bulloch counties to the north with Glynn and Camden counties to the south.

"The move to digital communications for these purposes usually takes some period of years. We’ve been very fortunate because we’ve been able to make this move in about a three-year period, which is great," Brown said. "Without SPLOST and without the partnership opportunity [with Coastal EMC] it would have taken at least twice as long to get to the point where we’re in. We’ve just been very fortunate."

Brown said the most challenging aspect of getting the new mandated system is getting the coordination and funding working together at the same time, but he’s happy with the overall project. "It’s definitely a great enhancement for all of our public safety systems," he said.

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