Public safety officials push for new radio system

Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 8:05 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 1:10 AM
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After a February ice storm left deputies and firefighters without radio communications for extended periods, Richmond County public safety officials say they have a renewed interest in purchasing their own radio system.

Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Lewis Blanchard brought the issue to the attention of the Augusta Commission, urging it to redirect the more than $600,000 it spends renting airspace from the South Carolina-based Palmetto 800 system and put it toward a lease-to-own program that would strengthen communications for county departments.

Last month, Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Lewis Blanchard brought the issue to the attention of the Augusta Commission, urging it to redirect the more than $600,000 it spends renting airspace from the South Carolina-based Palmetto 800 system and put it toward a lease-to-own program that would strengthen communications for county departments.

The 800 megahertz network used by the city is supported by 79 transmitter sites across South Carolina and Georgia, but it provides spotty coverage in south Augusta and in large structures, including hospitals, Blanchard said.

The need for such a system has already been confirmed by the city’s public safety committee, Blanchard said.

Sheriff Richard Roundtree had pledged to dedicate $13 million generated from SPLOST 7 to the Information Technology Department to purchase its own system. When the SPLOST referendum failed in May, talks cooled. However, Blanchard said he doesn’t believe the city should wait for another SPLOST package to move forward.

“If we acknowledge that we need it from every department, from every division and IT confirms it, then, in our opinion, waiting until it’s funded through SPLOST doesn’t make sense,” he said. “If we can get SPLOST two years from now, that’s great. SPLOST money will pay it off.”

Augusta Fire Chief Chris James said a system within the city’s jurisdiction would cut down on interference caused by trees because of the distance from the towers in South Carolina.

He said his department is contemplating how to go about purchasing a taller antenna for Station No. 15 on Flowing Wells Road, which is plagued with communication problems because of the growth of foliage in the area. A taller antenna could cost as much as $22,000.

“If we had our own system with closer towers in our jurisdiction, you wouldn’t have to make those adjustments as much,” he said.

By bringing a system in-house, James said, the city could improve its Insurance Services Office rating, which could help lower insurance premiums in the area. One criteria in the rating calls for a indicator to be placed in the 911 Call Center to alert officials of outages. During the last rating cycle, city officials were unable to convince Palmetto 800 to introduce an indicator into the call center.

“Right now, those are ISO points that we’re missing out on because we don’t have our own system,” James said.

The indicator might have come in handy during the ice storm, which forced deputies and firefighters to explore other means when attempting to communicate, including using cellphones. Their counterparts in Columbia County, which operate on their own system, never lost a signal.

James said such situations pose a threat to the safety of firefighters and impede the flow of resources.

“The folks down south may be able to communicate with each other because they’re in the same vicinity, but the long-distance communication is interrupted,” he said. “With dispatch being downtown and the call for service being in south Au­gus­ta, there’s just no communication.”

During the Aug. 19 commission meeting, interim Ad­min­istrator and IT Direc­tor Tame­ka Allen said that while she agrees the need is there, commissioners needn’t rush to purchase the new system.

“I don’t want the commission leaving today feeling like we don’t have a good deal with what we currently have,” she said.

Blanchard said he remains positive.

“The new system will not give a 100 percent guarantee that it will solve all of our problems, but it certainly increases efficiency drastically compared to where we are now,” he said.

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ColCo 09/02/14 - 05:25 am
The 800 band radios

worked perfectly in Columbia County. Great upgrade, but I'm sure the Mini Theater and the other pet non-profits will come before public safety.

wribbs 09/02/14 - 06:36 am
Is that $600,000 per year for

Is that $600,000 per year for renting the 800 band system? They could buy a lot of sites and mobiles for that kind of money.

nocnoc 09/02/14 - 06:58 am
If youi live south of Brown Rd in South Richmond Co.

and try to use a Cell phone (800MHZ) You understand why it is not always viable solution.

In fact there are DEAD SPOTS in Goshen, Old Waynesboro Rd, McDade, Liberty Church Rd. KISS ANY HOPE of calling backup on the backside of Bennock Mill Rd. / Horseshoe.

This is one of the reasons we always saw that RCSO patrol car parked in the driveway of that closed up farm just off Brown Rd. near Liberty Church.

The county would be right in pushing for Digital Trunk transmission for communication privacy and reducing the long term over head costs and the number of Frequencies needed.


AFTER S7 failed, it seems every week the readers are being fed S7 was needed to do this or that.

Either way it is looking like that S7 $194+M is really closer to less than $99M in needs vs wants.

nocnoc 09/02/14 - 07:06 am
Using the another example

In Goshen, the Hard Working Volunteer Community Watch team knows where the 2 way radio/cell phone dead spots are.

Using the donated 2 way 35 mile (800mhz) radios

1 example
250 yard circle from Muirfield and Fairway ct.

Some of those 2 way radios were donated by Wayne G.
out of his pocket. They helped out greatly in stopping problems before they spread.

Sweet son
Sweet son 09/02/14 - 11:01 am
"Can You Hear Me Know?"

This 'new' radio system will have dead spots too. Ask Chief McBride how his works at GRU. Bet they have dead spots in the large buildings. Radio just won't transmit through concrete and steel.

Oh, and the ice storm of the decade doesn't justify the expenditure of these kind of funds.. Radios didn't work then because repeater transmitters didn't have power just like the rest of us. Mine was out for three days.

Marinerman1 09/02/14 - 12:19 pm
800MHz Is Not Perfect

800MHz is not perfect, not EVEN in Columbia County. Particularly when not all of your services are ON the 800MHz radios. And there is no repeater to the other VHF radios. The radio issue has been my only beef with Sheriff Whittle.

No-Longer-Amazed 09/02/14 - 07:57 pm
A starting point..........

would be for the fire department to eliminate the public affairs position and use the salary saved as a down payment for the new radio system.

sand gnat
sand gnat 09/03/14 - 12:32 pm
Why not

earmark all of the increased revenue from the DUI 'tax' force to pay
for the radio system? Maybe increase the price of using Augusta Transit by 50 cents a ride? Put another $1 per ticket charge on tickets
to the Arts mini theatre events? Add a flat $5 earmark for the hiring of off duty deputies to work off duty venues? Should resolve the issue.

CommBoy 09/05/14 - 09:14 am
Palmetto 800 Upgrade

Has the thought crossed anyone's mind that just around the corner the Palmetto 800 system will be upgraded to P25 and at that point, for a fraction of the cost of a new system, you can add a sufficient number of towers to it to improve your coverage issues?

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