Archive for Tuesday, September 4, 2012

911 overhaul plan to be presented to officials today

Lori Alexander works at her dispatcher station in a secure area of the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St., in this 2009 file photo. Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said Friday he’s recommending the city of Lawrence and Douglas County come up with $7 million in the near future to help the center that handles 911 calls and other emergency communications meet new federal technology standards.

Lori Alexander works at her dispatcher station in a secure area of the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St., in this 2009 file photo. Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said Friday he’s recommending the city of Lawrence and Douglas County come up with $7 million in the near future to help the center that handles 911 calls and other emergency communications meet new federal technology standards.

September 4, 2012


Most people don’t think about 911 — until they need it.

That’s what Scott Ruf, director of emergency communications for Douglas County, says. But it’s his job to make sure the system works when people need it.

Now, he’s moving forward with a proposal to completely revamp the system that manages 911 calls as well as all communications between and within the public safety departments operated by the county and the cities within it. It’s a project that’s projected to cost $6.6 million and take up to 18 months to complete.

Ruf said the existing analog system was put in place 15 years ago and is now outdated. The new system, called a P25 800 megahertz simulcast system, will be digital and have greater capacity for a higher volume of incoming calls and cross-agency communication, Ruf said. He’ll present a proposal to the Douglas County Commission during its meeting at 4 p.m. today on the second floor of the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass.

Other improvements to the system are to include:

l Compatibility with state agencies’ systems. Ruf cited the example of the NCAA Basketball Tournament last spring, when more than 250 officers from outside groups assisted the city and county. Communication between them was difficult because different agencies use different system types and frequencies, but the upgrades will put Lawrence and Douglas County on a more widely used platform, making such tasks a matter of designating a channel for all agencies to tune to.

l Cost-saving through “spring-boarding” from the existing state network. Instead of building a network from scratch, the new system will build on an existing network put in place by the Kansas Department of Transportation. Douglas County entities will have control of their own network, though — it’s not state-operated — but some tower sites will be shared between county and state.

l The upgrades will make the system “more robust and stable,” which contributes to public safety across the county, Ruf said. It will also help improve the most visible aspect of emergency communications: response time.

l It won’t be encrypted, as Shawnee County’s new system is, but it will have “talk groups,” one of which can be encrypted. This is the case with the current system.


Ruf got approval to waive the bidding process and begin working with Motorola Solutions to build the new network in June. At the time, he said there was no reason to bid out the project because Motorola was the only company capable of finishing it. On Wednesday, he’ll ask for permission to go forward with contracts with the state, Western States Contract Alliance and Mid-America Regional Council to purchase the components for the new system.

He’ll also ask for money to upgrade the emergency communications center in the Law Enforcement Center at 11th and New Hampshire streets, where dispatchers communicate with fire, medical and police.

There’s a lot still up in the air in terms of implementation; you can’t close down the dispatch center and prevent emergency communication, so everything has to be done simultaneously with operating the existing system and center.

Still, Ruf said, the plan is to complete the upgrades in 12 to 18 months, with everything new coming online by no later than the first quarter of 2014.

Paying for it

Here’s where the challenge remains, Ruf said. Neither the county nor the city has plans to increase taxes, but Douglas County and Lawrence city commissioners disagree on some of the needs and, therefore, how much money to spend.

The county and city have a standing agreement to pay 34 percent and 66 percent, respectively, of the operating costs of emergency communications, which include the dispatch center. In this year’s budget negotiations, the county proposed hiring four new dispatchers but pulled out on that plan when the city didn’t match it in its budget. Ruf said that the department is understaffed and needs at least six to 10 new dispatchers.

Sarah Plinksy, assistant Douglas County administrator, said that the agreement for upgrades, instead of the usual 34/66 percent, was spread out to roughly 50-50 between the two entities. The county plans to pay for its half through issuing bonds and refinancing existing debt, Plinksy said.

The Lawrence city commission agreed to the 50-50 deal in August and will pay its half with roughly $3 million in debt and the rest in available cash funds, said city manager David Corliss.

Kansas University’s public safety branch will also contribute, but in what way and how much hasn’t been determined yet, Ruf said.


Daniel Speicher 5 years, 7 months ago

smitty, as someone who once had the privilege to work in this center with these great people, I think I can safely say that the "wish list" is necessary to maintain a public safety network. Yes, we currently meet federal requirements... But, these requirements are baseline and cover a wide variety of city sizes and jurisdictions. So, the same requirements that are for say Greeley County in western Kansas (with the lowest population in the state) are the same ones that are set for Douglas County, the fifth largest in the state. The reality is that we have a large enough population and are situated close enough to two metropolitan areas (Topeka and KC) that we will need some major overhauls to make an analog system digital... The question, then, remains... When?

For me, I think I wouldn't mind paying an extra percentage of a penny on my grocery store purchases for a couple years to get us up to snuff... Lord knows I am having to do it for a public library. That, of course, isn't to say I don't want the library and didn't vote to pay that extra tax... It is to say that if we are willing to do that as a city, we really ought to be willing to do this as a county, as it can affect the health and wellness of an entire community.

As far as a referendum goes... I suppose that would be a route to take. But, the first line of the article does kind of say it all... The vast majority of citizens don't even think about 911 until there is a major emergency in their lives. We never got calls from citizens when they were having a good day. (Not that we would have wanted them... That REALLY would have bogged down the antiquated system.) But, instead, we had calls from them on, quite often, the worst day of their lives. So, unless they are going to the voting booth on that particular day... Then, the referendum would likely fail... Whether or not it should.

Anyway... Just some thoughts for consideration....

--Danny Speicher

Daniel Speicher 5 years, 7 months ago

Don't get too excited... Keep in mind that KU has their own dispatch and that, unless I missed it in a different article, isn't likely to change... Thus leaving a substantial gap between the DGCO LE (LPD/BPD/EPD/DGSO) and KU Public Safety. One could view this as detrimental (as they don't shake hands real well), or of benefit (as KUPS has an extremely low caseload compared to the other agencies and might bog the non-university entities down a bit.) Either way, you are correct in saying that the new system would allow for better cooperation... But, moreso with other agencies not in Douglas County for situations similar to that listed in the article (i.e. KU National Championships, etc.)

Mike Frizzell 5 years, 7 months ago

As a scanner listener, both as a means of employment and as a hobby, this is great news for Douglas county. I am not familiar with Shawnee county's system but, Johnson county's system P25 700Mhz was a huge improvement over the old analog systems in the county which varied greatly from agency to agency. Several agencies in Johnson county were operating full-time on systems much more outdated than Douglas county's current system.

This whole radio system talk gets very technical, very quickly so I won't bore everyone with a post like that. For those who are interested, here is a summary Full of good information and links to more details.

deec 5 years, 7 months ago

Are there 911 fees on cellular and landline phone bills in Lawrence? If so, what is that money used for?

Maddy Griffin 5 years, 7 months ago

Be prepared.Remember how well the DMV handled a new system?

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