Shortly after portions of Hawkins County’s emergency communications equipment went completely offline on Dec. 18, the Emergency Communications task force has been meeting weekly to look into a replacement system.
They brought their final results to the Feb. 12 Public Safety Committee meeting, and the results were clear: they all ranked the TACN (Tennessee Advanced Communication Network) system as their first choice.
The committee still did not officially choose a replacement system. However, after hearing detailed information from both a TACN and a DMR representative, the committee voted to have a detailed survey of the county to determine the exact cost of a full TACN system as well as re-doing the system with analog equipment.
This came after it was determined that DMR (Digital Mobile Radio), which had been presented in previous meetings as a cheaper option, will likely not function properly in Hawkins County.
This study could take between two weeks to a month.
“Their first choice was TACN” Hawkins Co. EMA Director Jamie Miller explained at the Feb. 12 Public Safety meeting that, at the most recent committee meeting, members were asked to rank their equipment choices from first through third by “how they felt the system would perform for the county and to not let finances impact their decision.”
“The first choice by everyone on the committee was TACN, and over half of the votes for TACN were previous or current TACN users,” Miller said.
Replacing the current system with analog equipment and DMR were tied for second and third.
However, Miller explained early on that, through the committee’s research, they discovered that “there are some complications with DMR, and it may not be available as far as frequency availability” as they previously thought it might.
In earlier meetings, Miller presented a rough estimate of both solution costs: roughly $723,459 for DMR and $3,380,710 for TACN.
“With this system, it will fix your problems,”
Scott Tidwell, with Motorola Solutions, spoke on behalf of TACN and noted that the system can offer 97 percent coverage throughout the state. They also have to guarantee the coverage they claim on their ‘coverage map.’
“If you can’t talk where we say you can talk, we have to put that infrastructure in to make it work,” he said.
As far as implementation, he said, “Typically, the way this works is that the city/county, if they want increased coverage, they just pay to add a site. They link that into the system, they (the city) get access to that site, but they also get access to any other sites that are already in place to give them extended coverage.”
Both the software and hardware of TACN gets upgraded every two years and TACN employees take care of the work. To cover the cost of these upgrades, all TACN users pay a user fee of $200 per radio per year.
However, Tidwell noted that there is a chance that this could be abolished within the next few years.
Even Jimmy Hayes of Metro Communications, who spoke on DMR, said, “if money is no option, TACN is the way to go.” He explained that there are other options, but his research determined that DMR is no longer a viable option.
“With this system, it will fix your problems,” Tidwell said. “It will be here 20, 30 years down the line.”
Calculating the cost of TACN
The initial ballpark figure for a complete conversion to TACN was $3,380,710; however, Tidwell explained at the meeting that a lot goes into determining the final cost.
First, the county must determine how many radios are needed. Some agencies might need a more complex radio than others, and these range from $2,000 to $6,000.
In regard to the dispatch center, Tidwell explained that he could not yet give a figure for the equipment needed there.
Miller also noted that the county would definitely need at least one more site in order to get coverage. The estimate of $3,380,710 does not include a new site.
The equipment alone for a new site can range from $300,000 to $400,000. Then, the new site would need to be linked to other sites via a microwave connection. This microwave link could range between $75,000 to $200,000.
These factors will be determined through the study the committee approved.
However, it could be between 9 to 14 months before the new system was totally implemented and usable.
TACN also offers municipal leasing as a way to pay for the equipment. Tidwell later noted that there could soon be funding coming from the state that could help offset this cost.
“With this system, we’re done”
“The way I understand it, if we were to get this system, we’re done and don’t have to spend any more money,” Commissioner Bobby Edens asked Tidwell.
“You’re just responsible for what the users use,” he said. “With the system, you’re done.”
Dr. Blaine Jones later told the committee that this statement, “struck a chord with him.”
“I look at these men and women in here who take care of us 24 hours a day, 365, and money is not a big object,” he said. “I don’t care where you’re sitting, to me as a citizen, they need to be taken care of in the best possible way.”
“Buying yourself some time”
Hayes also brought up a new possibility—completely replacing the current analog system with the same equipment already in use.
“It’s not a problem to do that, but are you gaining anything?” Hayes asked. “You might gain a little bit of coverage by replacing the antennae, lines and repeaters. But, effectively all you’re doing is buying yourself some time. (On the current system) If you have someone on one side of the county and they drive to the other end, they are having to change channels as they move. You won’t be doing anything like that on DMR or certainly on a TACN. You would roam seamlessly just like you do with a cellphone.”
However, this option would be the fastest and the cheapest, as Hayes noted that it could be completely implemented and working in about a month and a half. It would only cost $144,787 plus around $100,000 for another microwave link.
This is opposed to the 9-to-14-month implementation date of TACN.
“We can do better” At the end of the meeting, Rick Brewer, who is Chairman of the Commission, told the board that, “we need to look at something we can afford.”
“If we can do this for $250,000 now (replacing analog equipment), and we’re talking 9 to 14 months for TACN, let’s get a fix on it now,” he said. “Then, down the road, if we want to consider TACN if we come into some money somewhere, we can do it then.”
Chairman Dawson Fields asked Hawkins Co. Sheriff Ronnie Lawson to offer his opinion on the matter, to which he replied that he just wants something that “doesn’t jeopardize the first responders in this county anymore.”
“The last big shutdown that we had on the radio system jeopardized about 20 of my officers out on a very serious homicide case tactical operation,” he said. “We need a system where all officers can hear each other without a problem. I understand you’ll have dead spots—you’re not going to get radio coverage all over the county. But, we can do better.”