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Judge declares an emergency, county to purchase new digital radio system

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By Shannon Brock

The Spencer County Fiscal Court voted Monday night to urge Judge-Executive Bill Karrer to declare a state of emergency with the county’s radio communications system and move forward to purchase new digital equipment.
The vote, which came on a motion from Magistrate Hobert Judd and seconded by Magistrate Jerry Davis, passed with all magistrates voting yes and Karrer abstaining since he would be the one to declare an emergency.
After the vote was taken, Karrer declared an emergency with law enforcement in regard to its radios and said he would direct that the county move forward to replace its existing system with a digital system.
The current system, which is an analog system, has caused the county much distress, with law enforcement agencies being unable to reach dispatch in Frankfort and each other in certain areas of the county.
Karrer brought up the topic during his communications to the court, noting problems had worsened within the past week.
Karrer said he wanted to inform the court that action would need to be taken “in the very near future.”
Davis spoke up and said he had been monitoring the radio system, too, and noticed excessive amounts of squeals and static. Davis pointed to the morning of Oct. 10 when one deputy was working a traffic stop and tried on three different occasions to radio state police.
“They could not hear him,” Davis said.
The current radio system is in need of repairs and backup equipment that could cost the county about $15,000, without any guarantees that their communications problems will be fixed.
Davis said he contacted other departments in Anderson and Franklin counties who have made the switch to a digital radio system and he obtained a “high” estimate that the radios for the sheriff’s department, jailer, coroner and EMS could be replaced with ICOMM or Kenwood technology digital radios for $37,000.
“I don’t see spending $15,000 to see if something works,” when a replacement can be purchased at $37,000, Davis said.
Taylorsville-Spencer County Fire Chief Nathan Nation is chair of the 911 Committee, which has been discussing the issue of radio systems for months, he told the court at the meeting.
“Communications are important and we kind of need to be on the same page,” Nation said.
Nation explained that although the ICOMM/Kenwood technology is available at a lower price, it is not compatible with Project 25, or P-25 technology, which is the recommended technology of choice from the federal government.
The ICOMM/Kenwood digital system will not interact with a P-25 system, which is the system the 911 Committee agreed to move toward several years ago.
The 911 Committee is made up of department heads from each of the city and county’s first responders.
However, Sheriff Buddy Stump said that representatives from the ICOMM/Kenwood side have informed him that by operating in “mixed mode” the radios should still be able to communicate with other local departments’ analog radios.
Although some local agencies have been preparing to go the P-25 route, no agency in the county is currently on a digital system. The P-25 compatible radios purchased to this point also operate in analog.
Nation noted that Shelby, Nelson and Bullitt counties are also going with P-25 technology, which could mean communications with outside agencies would be difficult, if not impossible.
Stump said those other counties could be 10 years away from switching to digital technology, and if that’s the case, Stump said the local departments will need new equipment once or twice before they switch.
After Judd’s motion to move forward and urge Karrer to declare an emergency, Magistrate David Goodlett asked, “Will this fix it?”
Stump responded that no radio system will work 100 percent of the time, but said this was the only system he had talked on and tested that talked all over the county.
Although Goodlett said he was casting his vote with mixed feelings, he voted yes, along with the other magistrates.
In the past several weeks, the Taylorsville-Spencer County Fire District and the Taylorsville Police Department each agreed to move toward using P-25 technology, so communications between local agencies could also be an issue, especially since the city police and sheriff’s department use the same frequency.
The sheriff has requested a new set of frequencies to help remedy the current communications issues, and that request is pending FCC approval.
The Taylorsville City Commission also authorized the Taylorsville Police to apply for its own frequency in the event of such a transition. However, it could take several months before the frequency is approved and available.