It will cost more than $3 million to enhance Washington County’s 3-year-old radio system so transmissions can be heard in major buildings or nearly $8 million to upgrade the entire system to the latest level of technology offered for emergency response services
A complete report with detailed cost quotes will be presented on June 11 by system manufacturer Harris Corp., Fort Wayne, Indiana, Washington County Sheriff Dale Schmidt said.
The $12.9 million countywide P25 Trunked VHF Simulcast radio system went online in December 2010, replacing an antiquated patchwork of analog VHF systems run by the county and individual municipalities.
While the system exceeds the industry effectiveness standard, from the beginning it had reception problems in certain large buildings.
That is the weakness of a VHF system, Mike Lunebach, sales engineering manager for Harris, told the county’s Radio Communications Systems Committee.
VHF frequencies cover wide areas of open space effectively, he said, but do not penetrate building’s constructed with thick walls of stone, brick or concrete, or with large amounts of metal infrastructure.
A 700 Megahertz system, however, is effective penetrating buildings, but does not cover as much area, Lunebach. “We’ve upgraded our technology a lot since we recommended this system (to the county) in 2007,” Lunebach said.
The reception problem is mainly encountered by law enforcement personnel, Washington County Sheriff’s Department Radio Systems Administrator John Schrader said. Public works personnel, who work outdoors, have not complained about the system, Schrader said.
As recommended by a hired consultant in March, Lunebach offered the county two scenarios:
■ Add a 700 Mhz frequency capability in the four urban centers of Germantown, Hartford, Jackson and West Bend to improve in-building coverage, shift VHF equipment to Newburg to resolve issues there, and move current transmission sites to the water towers in Germantown and Hartford. Estimated cost: less than $4 million.
■ Replace the VHF system with a 700 Mhz system. This would have the advantage of providing the county with the infrastructure that could easily be converted to what is expected to be the next technology improvement for emergency response communications, shifting from radio to a cellular system, Lunebach said. Estimated cost: less than $8 million.
A 700 Mhz overlay could be installed within six months, Lunebach said.
Equipment to boost 700 Mhz signals in a building can be purchased, which is not true for a VHF system, he said.