Archive for Thursday, November 4, 2004

City council hears radio concerns

November 4, 2004

Emergency responders aren't sugarcoating their message about the need for new communications equipment as they make their rounds to various city councils around Leavenworth County.

"What we have is going to be outdated in short order, and replacement is going to be expensive," Lansing Police Chief John Simmons told members of the Lansing City Council last week during a study session at City Hall.

Simmons and Maj. Burdel Welsh, of the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office, briefed commissioners during a presentation that already has been made to the Leavenworth County Commission and governing boards in Tonganoxie, Leavenworth and Bonner Springs.

The need for the upgrade, Simmons said, is being spurred by several factors, including:

¢ The Federal Commun-ications Commission is requiring that all emergency responder agencies do so.

¢ The system in use by Leavenworth, which the Lansing Police Department uses, is 18 years old; the Leavenworth Police Department uses an 11-year-old system.

¢ Current radio systems in use in the county don't always allow various agencies to communicate directly with each other, and a delay in communications can have potentially disastrous results.

¢ The huge explosion in electronic devices, including cell phones, has placed a premium on available radio bandwidth.

The presentation Thursday was short on specifics about a new system, especially on the issue of cost. "We don't know," Simmons conceded, "what this system is going to cost."

That's because exact requirements for the system have not been determined. No consultant has been hired to determine such issues as tower locations, height requirements and repeater requirements. The Kansas Highway Patrol is working on its own system, and it may be possible for Leavenworth County and its agencies to tap into that network, but work is far from complete on it, Simmons and Welsh said.

One figure that was bandied about was that radios could be three to four times as expensive as the handheld models now carried by Lansing Police officers, which cost in the range of $1,000 per unit.

Council member Kenneth Ketchum noted that many county residents aren't going to understand the need.

"What the average citizen sees is that you've got radios now and they work," he said.

But the radios don't work the way they need to in today's world, Simmons and Welsh said. For example, they don't allow direct agency-to-agency communications.

The Lansing Police Department, Welsh noted, can't communicate with the Leavenworth Police Department without going through an intermediary in the county's emergency dispatch station. If Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1 crews are on the scene of a fire in Lansing, they can't radio directly to the Lansing Police Department to block traffic in the area.

Neither Simmons nor Welsh asked the council to commit to spending money for a new system.

"My hope is that all city governments and the county commission will get together to address this problem that affects all of us," Welsh said.

To that end, he received the support of Lansing Mayor Kenneth Bernard, who promised to put it on the agenda in early December when mayors from around the county are scheduled to meet.

The promise was well received by council member Robert Ulin. "Until we get all of the elected officials together, these guys are going to have an uphill battle."

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