Hype

We’ve heard that some believe Lapeer County was “sold a bill of goods” regarding our current radio system. This is simply not true. When our current system was built in 1996-97, it was the best type of system available at the time, just as Microsoft Windows 95 was the best operating system available at the time. The system was designed and proposed to deliver adequate radio and pager coverage for the whole county. Five tower sites were to be built to achieve this. However, due to budget constraints and the desire to keep the overall system cost down, two towers were cut from the design. With three towers, coverage was satisfactory in most parts of the county, but left certain areas lacking in coverage.

The County wasn’t sold a system that couldn’t deliver what was promised, but made a conscience decision to save tax dollars while providing an adequate level of coverage overall. As the years went by it was clearly apparent that the cost saving measure sacrificed too much of the quality of the system.

This lack of quality is set to be corrected with a replacement system by adding the necessary tower sites in the proper locations to provide the proper and acceptable level of coverage to all areas of the county. This is the second major reason for a need to replace the current system. The first reason being it is beyond its anticipated life expectancy and a major breakdown could occur without the parts-support the manufacturer has provided for many years.

It is not prudent to expect a company to support any particular product they make forever. Is anyone still using an old analog bag phone as their cellular phone? If there is, do you expect the phone manufacturer to support it with parts and upgrades? How many companies are using Model T’s to support their company operations today? If so, how easy is it to find parts to repair it when it does break down? How much are those parts going to cost compared to parts for a more contemporary vehicle?

What are other counties using?

As Lapeer County seeks to make a move to join the MPSCS, several of our neighbor’s have already made the move.

Macomb, St. Clair, Saginaw, Shiawassee & Genesee Counties have already migrated to the MPSCS leaving behind their antiquated analog systems. Bay County is in the process of making the switch to the MPSCS while Tuscola, Sanilac and Huron Counties are seeking to move to the MPSCS just as Lapeer County is.

Oakland County started to build their own digital radio system in 2002 and due to the many PSAPs in the county and the original company they hired to build their system being bought out a couple of times, the system is not yet fully online.

Just as cell phones and television have changed to digital so are the commercial manufacturers of public safety radio systems. Even broadcast radio is starting to change to digital with the option of HD radio.

As mentioned in another post, the need for the radio system isn’t a matter of “going digital,” but rather “in need of replacement.” A digital system is just what is available on the market now.

As certain components are no longer supported by the manufacturer, parts will be difficult at times to come by. Those parts that can be found aren’t new parts; they’re used and not even refurbished in many cases. Lapeer County received several vehicle radio modems from Saginaw County for free recently and they are older models than the ones Lapeer is using. Because they’re older than our system, we’ve secured a grant to purchase a firmware upgrade to bring them to the version we’re using. Once that is finished, we’ll test the VRM’s to see which ones will work and which ones won’t. The working ones will be handed over to departments in Lapeer County that have need of them.

As the need for parts comes along, the more that ends up breaking down, the more out of pocket expenses we’ll incur. There will come a point that the system will start to “nickel & dime us to death.”

It has been said that 95% of 9-1-1 centers are analog based. While that is likely true, those analog systems are getting very old just as Lapeer County’s is. When those centers go to replace their analog systems, they will be purchasing a digital one.

Digital System or Replacement System?

There is a lot of concern that the bid for a new system at Lapeer County 9-1-1 was for the purpose of going digital. This is not the case at all. Digital is quite irrelevant in the matter as the need is for a replacement radio system. A digital system was chosen for two reasons. Number 1, no manufacturer builds analog public safety systems anymore. Number 2, the MPSCS was chosen as the most economical and safe choice and it just happens to be a digital system.

The MPSCS is a state-wide public safety radio system in Michigan and serves over 50,000 users. The level of interoperability provided by this system is unmatched world-wide. It only makes sense to join the system to have that level of interoperability available. As our society becomes less localized and more regional, we need to be able to communicate with our neighboring counties as we often send our responders outside our county to assist other agencies in major events.

The current 14 year old radio system is now beyond it’s anticipated life expectancy and the major component systems of it are no longer being supported by the manufacturer. If these components break down, the manufacturer cannot guarantee that new parts will be available. If the parts happen to be available, they are not covered under the maintenance contract and the cost of the parts will be “out of pocket”. If the manufacturer doesn’t have the parts available, Lapeer County 9-1-1 must search for third-party companies who sell the parts as used/refurbished.

To provide and ensure twenty-four hour exemplary Public Safety Communications service for the citizens, communities, and public safety responders of Lapeer County.