Hawkins County leaders one step closer to fixing failing emergency radio system

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HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – After four meetings over the past month by the 20-member task force set up by the Hawkins County Commission’s Public Safety Committee, county leaders are one step closer to reaching a decision on how to proceed with the county’s failing emergency radio system.

PREVIOUS STORY: Hawkins County Public Safety Committee creates task force to tackle emergency communication issues

The controversy resurfaced at the Hawkins County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon when concerned citizens and members of the emergency and first-responder community filled the commission meeting room.

“I feel like a lot of people have got their own opinions about what’s going to be best or what’s not going to be best, I just ask that everybody keep an open mind,” Public Safety Committee Chairman Dawson Fields said as the meeting was called into session. “There are things that are better than others and there are things that cost money but we’re not sure how we’re going to pay for it just yet, so I’ll say that.” 

The special called meeting of the Public Safety Committee Wednesday came after a special task force was enlisted to decide how best to handle the county’s failing emergency radio system. The task force was headed by Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee and Hawkins County EMA Director Jamie Miller.

“At the last meeting of the Hawkins County Public Safety Committee, we were asked to develop a task force to look at the different options for our radio system,” Miller said. “That task force came back with a recommendation, which was TACN as the number one choice, the number two and number three choices were full replacement of our system or DMR which tied.”

“Today’s meeting, the different vendors come in and talked to the county and asked for a full quote to be put in with coverage studies for the county of the exact cost of what it would be as a quote instead of an estimate,” Miller told Newes Channel 11 Wednesday.

Representatives from Motorola Solutions and Metro Communication spoke at the meeting, highlighting the pros and cons of each of the options.

The conception of the task force and the reason for this special called meeting is due to the old radio communications infrastructure that the county’s emergency communications services have been using which worsened December 18, 2019 when the radio microwave link was lost at the control points from Short Mountain to Bays Mountain. That caused the system to go into complete failure. 

Since then, the county’s emergency services’ microwave radio system has been functioning without the designated towers being linked together.

“A sheriff’s deputy might start out in Mooresburg and go all the way to a call in Mount Carmel, so now currently you have to switch to three different channels to do that and if you’re in the upper end of Hawkins County, you can’t be heard in the lower part of Hawkins County, so it’s a big officer safety issue, as far as being able to hear each other and if you need additional backup and whatnot,” said Corey Young who works for the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s Rescue Squad. “As far as the Rescue Squad, our communications system has always had issues, as far as dead spots, especially over in the Clinch area, in the Mooresburg area. We have two sites now that we transmit on, Town Knob and Short Mountain, so that helps a little bit, but there’s still a lot of dead areas now.”

The ultimate goal of the task force was to determine the best solution to this problem.

“I think the task force put many hours into their work and come up with their solution. I know personally, I’ve either talked to or visited about ten counties to see what radio systems they were using, to look at all the options and we looked at all those options we felt were viable in our area,” Miller explained.

The task force’s number one choice was TACN, Tennessee Advanced Communication Network, which is used by many other entities in the state. 

“It’s a system that I currently use now with one of my agencies that I work with. We love it. We love the interoperability of it. Being able to talk to the other counties around us, you got Greene County, Greeneville City, Kingsport, Sullivan County, Washington County all those guys, the Highway Patrol, TBI, several different agencies going to that system,” said Scott Stewart who works for the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office, Rescue Squad, and Third Judicial District Drug Task Force.

At the meeting Wednesday, the committee decided to request that both representatives present compile detailed cost quotations for the committee’s consideration for all three of the options chosen by the task force.

The representative for TACN said that it would take roughly four weeks to do extensive research and develop a quote for the committee.

The costs involved were unavailable at the time of the meeting Wednesday, according to Miller, as there were still so many additional factors to take into consideration.

The atmosphere in the county courthouse Wednesday only sharpened when the committee made no definite decision as set forth by the task force.

“I feel like it was a waste of our time to an extent, just to be honest,” Stewart told News Channel 11.

This sentiment was shared with most of the audience Wednesday.

“I just think it’s hard to put a price on a first responder’s life and I hope the county commissioners do the right thing and get the system and the equipment that we need that would potentially save somebody’s life,” Young said.

The date of the committee’s next meeting is still to be determined after results of the quotations become available.

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