The citizens of Lenawee County rely on first responders, including police, fire and emergency medical personnel, to leap into action whenever they call for help. Whatever the nature of the emergency, the role of the first responders is to assess the situation and react accordingly. What many citizens may not realize is the level of communication and coordination that occurs behind the scenes.
“Communication is everything,” explains Troy Stern, Chief of Police for the City of Tecumseh. “It is non-stop. We get our dispatches through our radio system. We reply to the dispatches through our radio system. It’s how we respond when people need help.”
For the past few years, the police and fire departments across Lenawee County have been trying to function with an outdated radio communication system. It all ties back to a change in the federal communication regulations that required radio signals, such as those used by first responders in Lenawee County, to be moved closer together in order to make room for more signals. Moving the radio signals closer together weakened the signals so they could not travel as far of a distance.
“We used to be able to send a signal from the central tower in Adrian to all four corners of the county,” explains Ryan Rank, Fire Chief for Madison Township. “The signal doesn’t do that anymore. Now we have to rely on outlying towers to broadcast that signal. All of the stations cannot hear the dispatches. And they can’t always communicate back to the central tower. It’s very frustrating.”
The challenges sending and receiving radio transmissions also pose a significant safety risk. Police officers responding to a standoff with a man on a motorcycle at a Michigan Pallet plant in July found that they could not transmit or receive communications while they were inside the building. Many officers have to deal with the low signal strength on a daily basis by holding their radios up in the air to get a better signal. This can be dangerous in potentially violent situations, where officers need to keep both hands free.
Upgrading Equipment for First Responders
In order to address the growing safety issue, the Lenawee County Commissioners recently approved a plan to upgrade the county’s outdated radio system. After exploring multiple options, the county decided to join a statewide radio network that is maintained by the Michigan Public Safety Communications System (MPSCS). This radio upgrade, estimated to cost around $6.5 million, includes construction of two new towers to fill in service gaps in outlying areas of the county.
Not only is the county providing the new towers, but the County Commissioners also agreed to provide funding for vehicle-mounted and portable radios and related equipment from Motorola for all of the city and township police and fire departments within the county.
“This investment by Lenawee County is huge for the police departments. As with every municipality, budgets are tight,” explains Michael Shadbolt, Chief of Police in Madison Township. “This investment is very helpful. To go out and try to purchase the system ourselves would be out of our budget and reach at this point.”
The upgrade will be funded using the money collected through the county-wide 911 telephone line surcharge, which was approved by voters last year. However, the surcharge is only effective through 2021 and the contract with Motorola will last for ten years. By approving this contract, Lenawee County Commissioners showed their commitment to investing in your safety and the importance of this upgrade.
Improving Communication and Coordination
The new system provides an opportunity for all emergency personnel within the county to tune into the same frequency to communicate with each other. That is extremely helpful in a variety of situations, from a simple road shut down to a major large-scale event, such as race weekend at the Michigan International Speedway or large concerts, such as the Faster Horses country music festival.
“Based on our testing, the new system has been superior so far,” says Shadbolt. “The clarity is better. It also tracks the GPS location of the officers. During a foot chase, it can map and follow the footprints of where the officer went. There is also an emergency button in case an officer is in distress.”
Another benefit of the new system is improved communication with other agencies that are also using the system. In the current system, there is no way for Lenawee County emergency personnel to communicate with other counties, such as Washtenaw or Monroe. This capability would be critical in the event of a major health or safety threat affecting the entire region. “This new system is the wave of the future,” says Rank. “It allows everyone to communicate with each other. We can even talk to the State Police in Lansing. The interoperability is great.”
Leveraging the State of Michigan’s radio system not only improves communication and coordination, it also reduces maintenance costs. The State is responsible for monitoring the radio towers 24 hours a day, and they also handle maintenance and repairs.
Investing in Safety, Investing in You
Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel are on the front lines every day. They need reliable equipment to keep them safe and to help protect the public. The new system is necessary, state of the art, and built for the future. It will create a safer environment for citizens on a daily basis by ensuring timely access to emergency personnel and improved response times. In the event of a natural disaster or terrorism attack, this type of instantaneous communication among first responders could mean the difference between life and death for our citizens.
“When public safety is at risk, we need something that is 100% reliable,” says Stern. “The system we are switching to gives us that 100% reliability.”
For more information on how the Lenawee County is investing in safety, visit us online at www.lenawee.mi.us/investing or call 1-888-448-1387.