The Ellis County Commissioners Court heard an update on its emergency communications upgrade, during a workshop before its regular meeting Monday. RCC Consultants representative Tim Driscoll detailed the progress the company has made in implementing a new radio system to ensure better coverage.

“Back in 2010 the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) posted a radio interoperability ability communications plan and project,” Driscoll said. “One of the recommendations to the county was to implement a 700-megahertz (MHz) multi-site simulcast radio system to improve radio coverage throughout the county.”

Driscoll said part of the 2010 plan was to make improvements to the VHF system to keep it on the air. RCC has invested money throughout the last three years in a narrowband system and replaced the microwave links to the existing sites in Bristol, Milford, Maypearl and Ovilla. All of this was done with the existing equipment.

“Right now as the radio system sits today, we have got the links to Milford and Bristol up and operational. They have been without error for about two months now. The Ovilla link should be up within the week,” Driscoll said. “The radio tower was another recommendation in the 2011 report. The county was operating off a leased tower site in Boyce. That presented some vunerability to the county, because they were in a shared equipment room where other tenants on the radio tower had open access to your equipment.”

Also, by using a shared antenna system, it did not allow the county to utilize the full transmitting power authorized by FCC. The county recently completed the construction of its own radio tower to provide better radio coverage for emergency responders.

“We now have improved talk outlet, because we are able to transmit at the wattage that the FCC has authorized the county to broadcast at,” Driscoll said. “We are on our own antenna system and have complete control of the site, which is also centrally located for the county.”

Driscoll said a cost analysis was completed and the county is projected to make its money back from the construction of the tower in seven or eight years' time.

One of the next steps that the county is working on is to move all of its operations to the 700 MHz radio system. This would be designed for 95 percent coverage of the county.

In the meantime, the VHF system currently in place will act as a stopgap giving the county the time to build up the needed resources to make the switch.

Ellis County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Chuck Lauback said in the past, law enforcement officers have faced communication problems in some of the outlying areas of the county, such as inability to use handheld radios. Other times they have been able to receive, but not transmit out, he said.

During the regular Ellis County Commissioners Court meeting, commissioners approved to accept a proposal from RCC Consultants for the development of a plan to implement a new VHF P25 conventional system using recently received grant funding.

The grant funding is from the NCTCOG in the amount of $558,000. These grant funds will be used to improve the existing radio system in the county. About $60,000 will be paid out of pocket for consulting fees.