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
“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,”
“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
“You learned it in kindergarten. Play nice. Share your toys,”
To make this happen, Eatock said Bureau County’s various agencies
must establish a governance body to set new policies and
“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
“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
“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:
are qualified in the printed report as twenty-year-old
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