Commission approves radio system upgrade for Talladega County
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Jul 29, 2013 | 2972 views |  0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An 800 MHz radio that is currently used by most public safety agencies in Calhoun and Talladega counties.  (Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
An 800 MHz radio that is currently used by most public safety agencies in Calhoun and Talladega counties. (Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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TALLADEGA – After months of uncertainty, the future of a communication system linking emergency first responders throughout Calhoun and Talladega counties looks secure, for now.

At its regular meeting tonight, the Talladega County Commission approved a lease purchase and software upgrades with Motorola for its portion of the 800 megahertz radio system, which will cost $563,000. With the agreement, a complete system upgrade for both Calhoun and Talladega counties on the radio system that links police, fire, schools and first responders can begin in November.

“We’re all on board with this now,” said Talladega Police Chief Alan Watson, chairman of the Alabama Regional Communication System’s board of directors, which currently oversees the radio system. “I think we all realized just how important this is.”

Without the commission’s approval Monday, it was looking increasingly likely that Talladega County’s portion of the radio system would go silent when Calhoun County began upgrading its system in November. The Alabama Regional Communication System’s board of directors voted in May, saying they didn’t have the money for an upgrade to the system. Calhoun County 911 assumed control of the Calhoun County portion of the system in June, but the board was still trying to find a counterpart in Talladega County when contract negotiations with Motorola began in June.

“If they don’t approve the upgrade, then there’s a chance when we begin our upgrade on Nov. 4, they’ll have glitches,” said Mike Fincher, chairman of the Calhoun County 911 Board of Directors, in a phone interview this morning . “There’s a chance it might go completely silent, and those public safety organizations that depend on this won’t have a radio system.”

Fincher said it was also possible that tower sites at the southern portion of Calhoun County along the border with Talladega County also might have outages without an upgrade.

But Watson said Monday night he was confident the commission would approve the upgrade

“We’re looking at protecting the people,” Watson said. “And without this upgrade we wouldn’t have this communication.”

With Monday’s approval it appears a months-long struggle on how the system would survive financially has come to a conclusion for the immediate future. In January, the Alabama Regional Communication System Board of Directors urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would have sought to increase property tax in the two counties to fund the system upgrade. When the bill stalled, the board looked for other entities to take control of the system.

Watson said two entities controlling the system could set up additional roadblocks in the future, and that it’s important officials in both counties communicate and cooperate to steer clear of another emergency upgrade situation.

“There will be some learning involved,” Watson said, about the two boards overseeing the system. “But we know we’ll have to do this again the way technology changes, so we need to be prepared.”

Federal funding initially paid for the system in the 1990s, when the Army kept its chemical weapons stockpile in Anniston. Funding stopped after the last of the weapons were destroyed in 2011.

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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