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    4/4/2012 8:41:00 AM
    Consultant to Bureau County: Play nice, share toys


    Lindsay Vaughn
    (Princeton NewsTribune) Staff Writer

    PRINCETON (IL) — Lives are at risk due to the poor communication and inter-operability between law enforcement, fire and EMS agencies in Bureau County.

    Communications consultant Jim Eatock of B-K Electric, whom Bureau County board hired to conduct a public safety radio communications study, told the board Tuesday that they have been lucky so far. People may die because of the lack of communication and cooperation between the sheriff’s office and various police, fire and EMS agencies throughout the county, which violates a presidential directive.

    “This is the A-No. 1, absolute, first, foremost priority with Federal Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security and Illinois Emergency Management Agency in regards to communications: anybody can talk to anybody as needed on demand and as authorized across all levels of government and across all disciplines,” Eatock said.

    “You have a mess here in Bureau County. You have policies and procedures that are directly contrary to the prime directive and the reason that we should be responders.”

    Currently, different agencies communicate on different channels and go through different dispatch centers. For example, rather than talking to EMS directly, a law enforcement officer might have to go through his dispatch center, which might have to go through another dispatch center to relay the message to the ambulance. In times of crisis, this can make timely, coordinated responses more difficult and put lives at risk, Eatock said.

    Eatock played a recording of the back-and-forth-and-back-again communication relayed through BuEComm and the sheriff’s dispatch center between several agencies that couldn’t communicate together as they tried to respond to a 911 call reporting a heart attack. The victim in that case felt their response wasn’t quick enough and tried to drive himself to the hospital, potentially putting more lives in jeopardy, said Eatock.

    “I’m not pointing fingers at any one agency. Just fix it,” he said. [Note: Specific recommendations are detailed in the written report.  je]

    All responders need one channel where they can communicate together, he said, and when someone calls with an emergency, the person who answers the phone should be the one who sticks with them. The caller shouldn’t be transferred elsewhere if they didn’t reach the right agency to handle their call, as they are now, he said.

    “You learned it in kindergarten. Play nice. Share your toys,” Eatock said.

    To make this happen, Eatock said Bureau County’s various agencies must establish a governance body to set new policies and procedures.

    “The governance body should be a new thing, a new group of all the stakeholders, all the players, representatives of those of us who get up at two o’clock in the morning to go put out a house fire or to be out on a traffic stop at one o’clock or jump in the ambulance and go off to save somebody for whatever reason,” Eatock said.

    “They have to work with all the players to come up with the plan. Right now, you don’t have a plan.”

    The other hurdle in Bureau County’s communications crisis, the one with the more tangible solution, is the unfunded mandate of narrow-banding. The deadline to comply with the FCC’s new requirements, which were announced a decade ago, is fast approaching.

    “The drop-dead date is the end of this year,” Eatock said.

    Bureau County needs to replace all of its equipment, Eatock said. [Note: in both the live presentation and the printed report, this requirement refers to the Sheriff Department's present equipment; many other agencies including BuEComm 911 have current and properly maintained equipment. je]

    “Everything the sheriff owns is junk,” he said. [Note: The exact details are qualified in the printed report as twenty-year-old mobile equipment and base station radios that are outdated and non-narrowband compliant, and base station antenna systems that are in need of complete replacement.  je]

    Eatock recommended the county replace the sheriff’s office’s portable and car radios with analog VHF units, which are the cheapest and perform better than other radio formats over hills, valleys and ridges and through trees.

    “You haven’t got the budget for anything else,” he said.

    The existing users on this platform are another benefit.

    “Every other agency in the county has an investment or a commitment to analog VHF,” Eatock said.

    Eatock suggested the county board could purchase these analog VHF radios for the sheriff’s office, with mobile repeaters for the vehicles, for about $165,000 for mid-tier units.

    Then the board would need to plan for additional infrastructure.

    With the one repeater tower the sheriff’s office now uses, there are a lot of dark areas in the county where radio reception is unstable or unavailable, such as in Walnut, Eatock said. That puts officers at risk when they can’t call for back-up.

    “Sooner or later, you’re going to need more towers,” he said. “Put it in your budget next year. Put it in every budget for the next five years.”





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