Effingham County officials are trying to find a solution to a problem plaguing emergency personnel, especially in the south end of the county, when they try to communicate with each other.
The county cannot use its tower in the south end because it doesn’t have the license to do so, according to County Administrator David Crawley.
“We were required by the FCC to turn off the frequency,” he said. “The equipment is down there. Everything works. It’s brand-new equipment.”
The county got a grant, based on a temporary frequency license, and Crawley said former public safety director Val Ashcraft intended to apply for another grant to operate the tower.
“But we are no longer able to get any type of temporary approvals for this license,” Crawley said.
Crawley said a committee is working on interim solutions to the problem.
The system needs upgrades, and the costs could be exorbitant, almost $500,000, according to Crawley, in order to meet FCC approval.
“It affects all users of the system,” he said. “It’s something that has to be addressed. But we also have the same problem on the north end,” Crawley said.
Crawley also said Rincon officials have requested a proposal on cost-sharing to consider.
“We’ve had lots of discussion about radio upgrades,” he said. “We have a plan; we’re just trying to figure out how to fund that.”
The county got a grant for the south end tower, but it was based on a temporary frequency license.
“We have run out of all of our extensions on the frequencies we were using,” Crawley added. “There have to be some changes to our system.”
Without the tower, communication has been problematic for public safety and emergency personnel. Rincon Police Chief Phillip Scholl told county commissioners of the potential dangers his officers have faced without radio communication.
“It’s horrible,” Chief Scholl told commissioners last month in a discussion about the radio issues.
Chief Scholl explained that because of a ridge that runs through Rincon, his department has radio problems east of Highway 21. He said there have been two situations where an officer had to enter a residence but had no radio communication.
“I cannot in good measure send them into a situation where they have to get on their cell phone,” the chief said.
Commissioner Vera Jones pointed to the Westwood Heights standoff and the possible barricaded gunman at a Rincon apartment complex as instances where communication was vital.
Chief Scholl said Rincon’s police and fire departments are on a digital system. The Effingham County Sheriff’s Office has digital capability, he said, but operates on both digital and analog. The Courthouse Road tower is primarily analog.
“With analog system, you’ll hear static when you get poor reception,” he said. “With digital, you get no signal when you have poor reception.”
Crawley said it was his understanding most of the equipment needed at the south end tower was in place. But governments in South Carolina and Georgia were using the same frequencies and the intensity of the frequencies used for communication also an issue.
“Several years ago, on the analog system, we were walking over the Chattanooga system,” he said.
Crawley said there are public safety impact fee funds and special purpose local option sales tax receipts that could be directed toward solving the radio problems.
“It has been difficult dealing with these radio systems,” he said. “Mostly what I get is it’s a county problem and county problem to fix. We can’t keep throwing millions of dollars at this radio system, especially in this time.
“Just being able to communicate would be phenomenal.”