After almost a year and a half of planning, building and testing, the new countywide emergency communications system is entering its final stage.
“We’re cooking,” said Scotty Hancock, director of the Floyd County Emergency Management Agency.
The county has done coverage testing under current conditions and is starting the process of switching Rome and Floyd county public works departments over to the new system.
“We’ve got guys that have put in a lot of hours and a lot of overtime to get this project complete,” Hancock said.
The non-public safety agencies that will be a part of the all-digital system are scheduled to get new radios on Dec. 1 and go live on Dec. 10.
Hancock said that there will then be a 30-day validation period where any errors can be addressed and fixed by Harris Corp., the military communications supplier that won the contract to build the new system.
If there are any glitches, the 30-day period will restart to ensure continuous reliability of the network.
Public safety agencies will go through the same protocol in January and hopefully everyone will be on the new system the beginning of February, about a month later than what the county had originally planned.
“When you deal with a project this big, everybody has a goal of staying on target and within budget,” Hancock said. “We’ve had several change orders but we are under budget and while we are a month behind schedule that’s not bad considering all of the work we’ve had to do.”
County Manger Blaine Williams said that while consultants have assisted in helping the county put the new system into place, it has been a trip into the unknown for most of the people involved.
“We’ve never built anything like this before,” Williams said of the project that was funded through a $26.7 million earmark in the 2009 special purpose, local option sales tax package. “We feel like we’ve got a good deal for the people of Floyd County and have managed the project the right way from the start to stay within that amount.”
Problems did come up when crews began installing the 10 towers that will carry the signal for the new system throughout the county. Work got behind schedule when crews had to cut roads and then discovered underground rock beds at some sites that proved troublesome.
“We’ve been able to work through the hiccups and so far it’s been a successful project,” Hancock said.
Reports indicate that the system is testing out better than expected. After all agencies are switched over, Harris will come back in the spring and do final coverage tests when leaves are on the trees.
“Everything we promised to voters will come and then some,” Williams said. “It has been managed extremely well by Scotty and he has been fully dedicated to making this a great asset for the county.”
For the changeover, the concern will be getting all of the participating agencies, governments and partners on the same page.
“We’re dealing with different agencies that have had their own system for years and now they’re all going to be under one roof,” Hancock said. “I compare it to going from a pager to an iPhone overnight.”
Williams said they want to have all entities with public interest as a part of the system, including Redmond and Floyd EMS, security at local colleges and city and county schools.
All agencies will pay their share of using the system in the form of a monthly charge and sign a users license agreement.
Before that however, the county is waiting to finalize the intergovernmental maintenance agreement with the cities of Rome and Cave Spring.
“That will be the foundation and then all the other agency agreements will fall into place,” Williams said.
When the current radio bands are eliminated, police and emergency traffic will only be able to be picked up by digital trunking scanners.
Hancock compares it to when the television switched from analog to digital in 2009. People will have to purchase the new scanners that operate on a digital signal and are a little more expensive than normal scanners.
Hancock said all of the agencies on the new system would be accessible by scanner except for special operations, S.W.A.T. and drug task force, which will be encrypted.