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Roswell OKs agreement for unified radio system
by Joan Durbin
December 19, 2012 01:22 PM | 3529 views | 4 4 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Roswell city council members on Monday gave the green light to an agreement with five other north Fulton cities to begin putting together a jointly shared emergency radio system.

The agreement calls for Sandy Springs to take the lead in procuring various elements of a new system, with each individual contract for equipment and services to be OK’d by each of the other signatories. In addition to Sandy Springs and Roswell, those cities are Johns Creek, Milton and Alpharetta.

Mountain Park will also be on the system but will not be contributing monetarily, City Administrator Kay Love said last week.

The cities in the new system will be buying Motorola radios, piggybacking onto an existing state contract that has already negotiated the pricing.

But before council could vote on the intergovernmental agreement, the area sales manager for Harris Corporation got up to ask that his company have an opportunity to bid on supplying the radios. “We and Motorola are the leading providers of these central communication systems for public safety,” said Russ Prindle, a Roswell resident.

In a review of the five cities’ needs, Prindle said it appeared that his company could save them up to 10 percent in cost. He said Georgia counties such as Henry, Floyd and the city of Rome realized similar savings with his company. “All we are asking is that you look at going to bid for your radio system equipment,” Prindle said.

But Mayor Jere Wood said he had to listen to technical experts in this decision. “We’re getting the recommendation from staff to sole source this product because they feel there is a difference in the products,” the mayor said. “The other cities have all concurred. I am not confident in second guessing the decision of someone I trust and who has a lot more experience in what they need.”

Roswell Police Capt. Ed Sweeney, who is the city’s representative on the five cities’ technology committee, said Harris has too few emergency radio systems up and running to adequately judge the equipment and its effectiveness, while Motorola has many such systems already installed. “Our review was more technical than contractual,” he said. Sweeney also said buying radios that are different from what surrounding jurisdictions are using would make it very difficult to have seamless communications operations, he added. Love told council that if the intergovernmental agreement was approved, in all likelihood the contract would not be bid out.

“Motorola is what this agreement contemplates to move forward with the system design,” she said. Roswell’s capital contribution to the new system is estimated to be $4.2 million.
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December 27, 2012
The truth of the matter is most cities and counties do not have "experts" on staff who truly know two-way radio technology the way they should to make an unbiased recommendation on the proper course their particular agency should take in a project this size. If you were to poll the cities throughout the metro Atlanta area, and even across the entire State of Georgia, you will find the majority have a ranking public safety official, such as a fire lieutenant or police captain, making the recommendations/decisions on radio purchases and radio maintenance/repair along with the many other duties they perform, such as managing a fire station and it's personnel, a shift in the uniform patrol division or another division within the department (i.e., records, communications, fire prevention, etc.). With this being the case, the primary responsibility is definitely not two-way radio and the majority of these "experts" don't have the time to truly dive into the technological data provided by the multilple two-way radio vendors or test the various brands and models to make the decision that is best for the agency both operationally and economically. The end result is they take the short cut and stay with the brand they have been using for years by using the State Contract as the easy way out, when in fact two or more vendors have been known to beat their own State Contract Pricing when put into a competative bid situation. Most cities and counties don't know this because they rely strictly on sole sourcing a multi-million dollar project and never even consider the Request For Proposal (RFP) or competative bid process because they do not want to spend the time reviewing and researching the information the vendors submit. Even if they did do you think they would truly be able to understand the majority of the technical data and actually compare the differences between the different vendors' solutions. My guess is probably not....What a shame....
No Excuses
December 28, 2012
I hear what you are saying, but we aren't talking about rural areas- we are talking about affluent cities in the metro Atlanta region, 3 out of 5 have paid 911 managers. With the salaries what they are, our government officials have a fiscal responsibility to gain the required knowledge and training to make informed decisions and not take the easy way out, as all of us end of footing the bill. And all too often as has happened time and time again, we never get the promised golden egg we pay these same vendors for.

These proprietary trunking systems are a huge money pit, and taxpayers end up getting taken to the cleaners and the agencies never get what they pay for. For example, in the Atlanta metro, we have 10 non-interconnected 800MHz systems, and to this day, there is no inter-system roaming between them, meaning an Atlanta officer who travels to Gwinnett county once outside the range of the Atlanta system, his radio will not automatically change to a Gwinnett owned site and be able to talk back. This was promised by a certain vendor for over 20 years, and various political and technical reasons are always cited as to why it has yet to happen.

It's mainly because there is no metro wide authority who runs all the systems. Instead it's all seperate little kingdoms where everyone creates walled gardens. Some of those systems, such as the ones in Gwinnett and Walton counties, use proprietary encryption that prevents other vendors' subscriber radios from accessing the network. So much for P25 being an "open standard".

Truth is we had more interagency interoperability and lower cost voice communications when these agencies were on VHF and UHF analog systems. No, there were no "whiz bang" fancy radios with 1000 talkgroups, color screen displays and voice prompts. But what we did have was reliable voice radios with everyone else's channels programmed right in, and could all talk to each other. There were no issues with radio vendor A not being compatible with radio vendor B. So long as the frequencies and tones were the same, it just worked. And worked well.

Maybe we should have stopped listening to those vendors long ago. We'd be about $500 million dollars richer (collectively speaking) and have something we don't have now: radios that actually work and we would all be able to talk to each other on scenes.

Roswell is making a huge mistake IMO. Another disparate proprietary radio network is NOT the answer, and they will find, as many others have, the true cost paid will be much higher than anticipated. Promises of performance and features working will get broken, and excuses will flow from the vendor's lips like hurricane Sandy washed away the Jersey shore.

and the taxpayers will once again, waste money and taxes will go up to compensate for it.

and 5-7 years from now, we'll be told we need to buy the next proprietary whiz-bang radio system as this one will "no longer be supported" and have to go through it all over again.

Things were so much simpler in the past, weren't they?
December 30, 2012
I understand your position No Excuses, but I must disagree on some of your positions. Even though three of the five cities in North Fulton County have paid 9-1-1 managers, I think only two are actual city employees because the manager of Chatcomm 9-1-1, which provides dispatch services for Sandy Springs and Johns Creek (plus Dunwoody in DeKalb County), is a private, contracted service that exists solely to provide, or in the managers case direct/manage the 9-1-1 center operations and not the radio system. The managers/directors of 9-1-1 centers have their hands full overseeing the day-to-day operations of the center, such as personnel, standard operating procedures, managing equipment in the center, opens records requests, etc. and really don't have the time to understand and manage the radio system and two-way radios used by field personnel (both public safety and non-public safety operations), especially if he/she manages a 9-1-1 Center responsible for more than one city or county. In today's technological environment having the 9-1-1 Center Director/Manager manage the radio system and all users' radios would be like having the 9-1-1 Director/Manager be responsible for the computer network and applications for an entire city (both public safety and non-public safety) or mutliple cities. You and I both know this cannot and will not work. Even though they (9-1-1, computer network, radio network, etc.) all work together for one common goal to deliver services the radio system, just like the computer system must be managed separately in order for a city or county to get optimal benefit and services out of the radio system. Of course, in the public safety environment some 9-1-1 Centers providing dispatch services for multiple agencies have their Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) Systems interfaced with multiple brands of police and fire records management systems because the cities and counties can't agree on purchasing a computer system from the same vendor (sound familiar?). One would think the purchase of two-way radios would be a little bit easier than computer systems since there is a non-proprietary standard known as "P25" now, but we haven't seen much of a change. Dunwoody PD is about the only agency around that has stepped out on a limb and purchased something other than Motorola. They have E. F. Johnson radios that are working on both the Motorola Astro Digital System owned by DeKalb County and the Motorola Smarnet Analog System owned by Fulton County.

You mentioned there are ten non-interconnected 800 MHz radio systems in the Atlanta metro area and the reason radios on these different radio systems cannot roam because there isn't a metro wide authority to oversee the various systems. I personally do not believe a metro wide "authority" is needed to make this happen because when you mention "authority" I think of another layer of government that we do not need (like MARTA). The various governments need to simply appoint someone they already have on staff, preferably their radio system manager, to serve on a metro wide radio system oversight committee. This committee would manage two-way radio equipment and systems in the metro area by making sure each city and county remain up to date on technology by drafting Requests for Proposals, receive competitive bids, would seek out funding sources for each city and county, plus make sure no city or county uses any technology, feature or function that is proprietary. Again, the word "authority" scares me, so please stay away from this one.

Regarding interoperability between users in the 800 MHz frequency band, the FCC allocated five mutual aid channels in this part of the spectrum (named 8CALL and 8TAC 91 through 8TAC 94) for users on the different systems to communicate with each other during join operations. The Area 7 All Hazards Council Communications Subcommittee obtained grant funding several years ago and built out a metro wide 8TAC simulcast radio system for agencies in the nine county metro area to use during mutual aid situations, but it is very rarely used, if ever. This is because agencies have cross programmed radios to function on more than one of the other ten 800 MHz trunked radio systems in the metro area.

In today's day and time of cities and counties not wanting to commit to long term technological or other types of agreements because they are not sure if they can afford it I can understand why the cities in North Fulton County do not want to go in with Fulton County, Cobb County, DeKalb County, Forsyth County or the City of Atlanta by expanding the systems owned by these governments to give them the radio coverage they need, plus the annual reoccurring costs to do so. I think if the cities in north Fulton County want to take that huge step by building out their own system then so be it. They are the ones who will have to live with the decision and the taxpayers will bare the costs, but they need to do the right thing and put the system out for competitive bid. I know most, if not all, of the cities in north Fulton already have Motorola 800 MHz mobile and portable radios that are P25 capable, but that doesn't mean they have to purchase Motorola P25 infrastructure. They should at least issue an RFP for 700 MHz and 800 MHz P25 infrastructure from the various vendors to see what their options are. The taxpayers should demand it!

Smartnet II
December 24, 2012
What a shame that a true RFP was never put out and other qualified vendors such as Harris, Cassidian and EF Johnson considered for the job. So instead, the taxpayers get to pay a bloated price for another proprietary system rather than the mutli-vendor solutions other manufacturers' would have offer if they were allowed to bid competitively?

The cities' refusal to work with Fulton county to overhaul the analog system is telling. One has to wonder if this is because the county, unlike Roswell and the other players in the URS are considering other vendors for their upgrade.

Det. Sweeney doesn't know what he is talking about. Harris is a large corporation that has more Federal and US Military communications equipment contracts than Motorola Solutions could ever dream of. And no I don't work for them. But if he ever stepped foot onto a US military installation, you won't see any Motorola radios these days, but you will see Harris and EF Johnson.

Both of these vendors and a third, Cassidian (EADS North America) have sold hundreds of similar systems to governments around the country and the world, and have done so for less than Motorola Solutions. A true honest RFP process means competition which means lower cost to taxpayers.

The state law allowing for governments to side-step the open bid process needs to be stricken. It's an invitation for us to overpay and it hurts other vendors who are qualified. And we all end up paying more for it in the end. Every time.
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