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08-02-04 Commissioners work on pinpointing, finding corrections for emergency communications issues

By Sean Rice

  Mercer County Commissioners signed a contract in special session this morning to get an assessment on emergency communication systems in the county.

  Commissioners took the advice of the Mercer County Terrorism Task Force Committee and a special communications review committee made up of emergency responders and dispatchers.
  Commissioner Tom Gagel said the communications assessment will pinpoint communications problems in the county and hopefully facilitate a correction for those problems. Emergency personnel in Marion Township often have trouble reaching central dispatch on hand-held radios, Gagel said of one known problem.
  The contract signed with the county states Frank Pethel, of Systech Corporation, will be paid a maximum of $25,600 for the assessment. The contract is in effect for a year but states initial reports are due within seven weeks of the signing date.
  Commissioner earlier this year passed a resolution to have another company, RF Systems Engineering Associates, perform the study, but later rescinded that resolution in July. Emergency officials apparently expressed concerns about the decision-making that went into choosing RF Systems. Commissioners rescinded the resolution after agreeing to allow the Auditor of State's office to audit the books of the Mercer County emergency management agency and the federal terrorism grant money in the department.   Mercer County has been receiving terrorism grant funds since 2001, totaling near $400,000. Commissioners have approved grant purchases from the terrorism task force for an off-road all terrain vehicle, an emergency tower in Coldwater, water plant security devises in Celina and St. Henry, hazardous materials suits with radios, a decontamination tent, night vision goggles and other equipment.
  On Tuesday, Gagel said he and the other two county commissioners will be looking at approving a $91,282 contract to have the emergency 911 computer aided dispatch (CAD) system upgraded. The CAD system gives dispatchers information on a computer screen about the residence calling for an emergency, such as address, known occupants, health problems, past responses and other data.
  The system crashed twice within a month recently, something officials say puts lives in danger.
  The terrorism task force committee met last week and recommended the $91,000 CAD update. The change would upgrade the current DOS program to a Windows platform, and would also move the county a step closer to a cellular-accessible system.
  Currently 911 calls can be made from cellular phones, but dispatchers do not have a system that pinpoints where the call is coming from. Gagel said the state legislature is considering a law that requires dispatchers to use a system that can pinpoint cell phones.


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