Payette County Sheriff’s Office aims to upgrade outdated radio system

By Corey Evan Independent-Enterprise – Compatibility problems with surrounding jurisdictions noted

PAYETTE — Communication during emergency situations was on the agenda during the Payette County Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting on Nov. 30, in the form of a request by Payette County Sheriff’s Lt. Andy Creech to help upgrade the Sheriff’s Office’s radio communications equipment. Creech presented commissioners with a packet, explaining the age of his office’s equipment.

“I kinda hate to bring this onto you guys now, but I think you [need to] understand the full need; I think it’s important just to understand where our radio infrastructure is at,” said Creech at the meeting.

According to Creech, the majority of his office’s equipment is in need of replacement; 91% of its repeaters, 75% of its dispatch base stations, 86% of its mobile radios and 90% of its handheld radios are considered “end of life.”

“Equipment that reaches the ‘end of life’ is supported for one additional year,” according to Creech. “After that time, the manufacturer quits making replacement parts for that equipment. We have continued to use this equipment and have been fortunate to keep our radio infrastructure operational, given our equipment’s age.”

He also noted that only Payette County still uses VHF (very high frequency) technology to communicate with fire departments and older UHF units for law enforcement communication, which has been subject to increasing signal interference and equipment shutdowns.

“When St. Luke’s Hospital went in [in 2014], they had some equipment in their hospital that shut us down for a couple of hours, before we located it and had them shut it off,” was one example of such interference mentioned by Creech.

He also noted that the equipment is incompatible with systems from surrounding counties.

The Sheriff’s Office is in charge of maintaining this equipment. Creech aims to eventually convert the equipment to use a 700 MHz digital band reserved statewide for first responders, with encryption capability.

“Around 2010-2013 the State of Idaho created a Statewide Interoperable Radio Communications Network,” wrote Creech in an email to the newspaper on Dec. 1. “At that time, there was grant funding available through the State of Idaho under the State Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC). This grant funding set up the backbone of the statewide system and allowed several counties to setup equipment within their jurisdictions to join the system. Payette County was not included in this grant opportunity. The Payette County 911 Operations Board has wanted to join the statewide system for at least the last seven years. The cost to join the system has always been a barrier to doing it.”

Creech is seeking the board’s help in migrating to the system. This would increase safety for first responders by allowing fire, EMS, and law enforcement to be able to communicate directly to each other, communicate with other jurisdictions, and eliminate problematic radio interference. It would also update our equipment so that it would be more reliable for our first responders,” wrote Creech.

Creech explained that attempts thus far to find outside help paying for a full system replacement have been largely fruitless.

“There are limited funding opportunities for replacing radio infrastructure,” wrote Creech. “Payette County has used some grant funds from the Idaho Office of Emergency Management to replace handheld radios and base stations; however, the money available is not enough to upgrade the entire system. The Payette County Sheriff’s Office has also had preliminary discussions with vendors about lease to buy opportunities. We have researched grant opportunities and have not located any current grants to assist us in upgrading our radio infrastructure.”

Creech said vendors are offering replacement equipment at the same prices if items are replaced individually as they would if the Sheriff’s Office did a top-down replacement.

“The age of our current equipment varies. The majority of our repeaters are 15 to 20+ years old. The base stations that dispatch uses on a daily basis are 20+ years old. The majority of our mobile radios are also 15 to 20+ years old. When inventorying our radio equipment, most of the equipment is 5 to 10 years past the end of life date.”

Creech estimated replacement costs would total between $1.5 million and $2 million, and mentioned that the board could potentially put CARES Act funds toward those costs.

As this was not an action item on Monday’s agenda, no formal action was taken during this meeting.

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