By JOYANNA LOVE | Managing Editor
The Maplesville Town Council received an update during its April 11 meeting on the status of the county wide emergency communications system that is being built.
Having a presentation on the system had been previously discussed in light of a bill for maintenance of the system.
Trae Caton of Chilton County 911 started with background information on the creation of the countywide P25 radio system.
Caton took the project on in 2021 after Dan Wright resigned from the department.
Right now, the fire departments, except for Clanton, use a VHF system, while the police departments use a system developed by AT&T for first responders.
Clanton Fire Department has already switched to the P25 radio system because it had purchased all of its needed radios, and the tower near Clanton was operational.
“They have been operating on it for about three months now, no complaints whatsoever
The VHF system has been upgraded and will serve as a backup system for the fire departments when the P25 system is fully operational.
Departments using the AT&T based system have continual problems with the radios.
“What scares me to death and what keeps me awake at night is one of those officers needing that radio and not being able to get it,” Caton said.
He said this is what he “is trying to prevent” by working to get the P25 system completed and fully operational.
When complete, the system will allow local agencies to communicate with state and federal agencies that are already on the system. It would also allow local police and fire agencies to talk to each other. Right now, a “patch” has been created to allow these systems to integrate with the new system, but it is not as reliable as needed.
“Right now, we have two towers in the county that was a part of the original project started by Dan Wright,” Caton said. “He began that project in around 2015 … The original maps called for five tower sites in Chilton County. That would have given us more than 100% coverage and help our neighboring counties out some.”
That original plan, which also included a backup 911 dispatch center with upgraded consoles, came in at around $7 million, Caton said.
“At that time, the budget that Dan had set was around a million, so unknowingly to a lot of people,” Caton said. “I am trying to be as civil as I can be and I am not trying to place blame on anyone but it was not communicated that we dwindled the system down from $7 million to $1 million.”
Caton said agencies thought the initial plan was still being implemented.
“What we have is actually working better than it was projected to work from the get go,” Caton said.
Right now, one tower is in Maplesville and one is behind Enterprise Fire Station just outside the Clanton City limits. Shelby County towers can also be used on the new P25 system.
Maplesville’s tower is almost ready for the town’s departments to come into the P25 system, but they need more radios for the police department.
Additional towers are needed for coverage in the whole county. Caton is looking at putting the needed hardware on existing towers to save money and maximize coverage.
Infrastructure costs to complete the system have been estimated at $4 million. Caton said a master plan for the project is being developed and will be developed in the future
Mobile units to connect to the system have been determined to work better than the handheld radios. The mobile units are in the emergency vehicles and can use a larger antenna. Police Chief Robbie Autery said the department had purchased handhelds because they had been told they would work. Caton recommended that mobile units be purchased.
“There is a huge difference because of the wattage, and the antenna of the car,” Caton said.
Autery said getting the mobile units to go in the vehicles would cost around another $40,000.
Grants are available for purchasing the mobile units, and the Maplesville Fire Department has received one and purchased all of the radios it will need.