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The City of Clarksville Tennessee activates new public safety radio system

 

Clarksville, TNCity of Clarksville - Clarksville, TNThe City of Clarksville has completed the installation and activation of a new public safety radio system that will service Clarksville’s first responders. The new system provides a single unified radio system for both Clarksville Police Department and Clarksville Fire Rescue.

“This is a very special day in the life of Clarksville Tennessee,” said Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan opening the ceremony announcing the activation of Clarksville Tennessee’s new $7,000,000 public safety radio system. While that might seem expensive at first glance, you have to consider that funds the installation, support, and operation of the new system for the next 10 years.

Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan gives her remarks at the announcement of Clarksville Tennessee's new public safety radio system

Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan gives her remarks at the announcement of Clarksville Tennessee’s new public safety radio system

Mayor McMillan spoke briefly about the process the city went through in identifying the need for upgraded communications. “When I first took office in January 2011, one of the first things that I did was start to assess all of the departments of Clarksville city government and their needs. I went to the department heads and I talked to them about what they thought would be one of the most important things that we can do for their departments as we move forward. And even in that initial assessment that I began to do in 2011 it was obvious to me that our public safety departments in Clarksville were doing a fantastic job with a woefully inadequate communication system.”

Emergency personnel respond to a Tornado in South Clarksville in 2008

Emergency personnel respond to a Tornado in South Clarksville in 2008

She continued, “So we began the process of looking at what we can do to rectify that problem. We began talking with the Chiefs, we were talking with other members of the staffs, and other people within Clarksville city government. We also talked to our first responders. We talked to everyone we could think of talking to, to really look at what we needed to do to make the response of our first responders and our public safety departments, officers, and firefighters, and emergency personnel the best it could be.”

Mike McGannon from Engineering Associates the consultant on the new public safety radio system

Mike McGannon from Engineering Associates the consultant on the new public safety radio system

The system that came out of those discussions was not going to be cheap, and Mayor McMillan spoke about how the city worked to cover the expense. “So what we did, was we started a capital project that was one-of-a-kind! It was to look at a new emergency communications system that would bring the best technology that we could find to the city of Clarksville to help our first responders. Our goal was to have a system in place that would allow seamless communications, to get the resources and support in any emergency situation. And I am proud to say as I stand here today, that we have that now”

This is not your typical capital project. “You know, I know people will say that capital projects are only about buildings, brick and mortar, which you can do to build something that you can see, something that has names of people on it. But that’s just not true!” Mayor McMillan said. “Our improved state-of-the-art communication system in my opinion is one of the most important capital projects that we’ve accomplished! Because it has immediate and positive effects on the lives of each and every citizen of Clarksville. And by the way it was about 7 million dollars, so it was a lot of money for big capital project.”

She then thanked Mike McGannon, from Engineering Associates Inc. for his efforts in helping to design, and construct the new system. “We couldn’t have done it without you, and we appreciate all your help,” said Mayor McMillan.

Mayor McMillan then announced that the system went live at 12:01am on Wednesday, June 4th, 2014. And she stated, “It worked!”

She then turned the podium over to Clarksville police chief Al Ainsley.

Clarksville Police Chief Al Ainsley speaking about the new public safety radio system in Clarksville Tennessee

Clarksville Police Chief Al Ainsley speaking about the new public safety radio system in Clarksville Tennessee

“I want to thank the Mayor and City Council most of all,” said Chief Ainsley. “Because this Mayor and City Council has shown us time and time again how much they support public safety, and how much they support us.”

Ainsley stated that his officers appreciate the city’s investment in public safety with the new radio system, “If you are a police officer or a firefighter and you don’t think that this type of investment is an investment in you, then you speaking out of the other side of your face! That’s the bottom line! And I appreciate it.”

He then talked a little bit about it, “This is a top of the line, top-notch system that we went hot with this early morning at 12:01 AM. It is going to enable interoperability throughout the state, it way surpasses what we had! The Motorola product itself is a far better product than we had with our last system.”

Ainsley then added his personal thanks to Mike McGannon, “Mr. McGannon has been our consultant through this. This was a large project when we started, and a lot of work has been put into it. I appreciate your firm and would recommend you to anybody!”

Ainsley also heaped more praise on Motorola, “They have been outstanding throughout this process, we could not have asked for more from them. Every single question that we’ve had, every single time we’ve asked them for help, a question, anything they have been second to none and I want to say that! The product, the vendor, and the support system that we have in place I think is if not the best, at least the equivalent of anybody in the state.”

The new portable radios, Clarksville Fire Rescue's radios on the left, and Clarksville Police Radios on the Right

The new portable radios, Clarksville Fire Rescue’s radios on the left, and Clarksville Police Radios on the Right

Ainsley continued, “The system did go hot last night. We had very few problems since then. The clarity of these radios is amazing! And we’re not even working off mobile’s yet. The portable radios are just outstanding especially the clarity.”

Clarksville’s public safety radio system has been plagued with dead spots for years, and Ainsley assured the public that the new system resolves most of those issues.

As he closed his remarks Ainsley once again thanked the Mayor and City Council for their foresight in investing in the new radio system, “Mayor, we do appreciate it! This is an investment and public safety, and I could not have asked for better! It has surpassed my hopes.”

He then turned the podium over to chief Mike Roberts of Clarksville Fire Rescue.

Clarksville Fire Chief Mike Roberts speaking about the new public safety radio system for Clarksville Tennessee

Clarksville Fire Chief Mike Roberts speaking about the new public safety radio system for Clarksville Tennessee

“I also would like to add my thanks to the Mayor and City Council for us having the radio system online that we have now,” Roberts began. “What you may or may not realize, a radio is a radio, is radio; right?” Roberts asked the audience. “But that’s not the case,” he said. “We’ve got as good of a radio system is you can possibly have in any place where we would want to go. And the important thing about that for public safety, is that it is our lifeline,” Roberts stated gravely. “Now we have the best lifeline that we can have. Both for police officers and firefighters.”

He talked more about the improvements of the system offered for Clarksville’s firefighters, “We already found simple things that you don’t think about; such as if you are standing beside a fire truck trying to speak into a radio, with all the old systems all you got was static; that’s it. Now you can talk into our radio and completely understand what someone’s trying to say when you try to get some information out! It’s not all the time life critical information, but sometimes it is, and it’s nice to know that is going to get out to where it needs to go!”

Roberts continued, “In building coverage, so far like I said we only went live last night so we don’t yet know an awful lot, but we think as a result of our testing that are and building coverage is going to be much greater than it has been in the past. Which to a firefighter, as you know we do most of our dangerous work inside of a structure. So in building coverage is again critical to us.”

He then praised Motorola and the staff for all of their assistance getting the new system operational, “I can’t think of a better business partner to ever have, in a situation like this. It took over year to do this, and every problem that cropped up during that time they were ready to go with a solution! Every time! You don’t see that all the time out in the business world when you’re working with other companies.

Roberts explained that Wireless Plus will be maintaining the system going forward, “Firefighters are rough on everything including radios,” Roberts said. “And so whatever may happen to the radios they will be here to take care of us and make certain that we keep our new lifeline operative.”

“As of yesterday we have now been three weeks with fire dispatch coming from the city dispatch center,” Roberts said. Then he explained, “For those of you that don’t know for at least the last 37 years, which is as long as I have been here the dispatching of fire trucks, or fire equipment has always come from a firefighter in the downtown fire station.”

A 911 dispatcher at the City of Clarksville's E-911 Center uses the new public safety radio system

A 911 dispatcher at the City of Clarksville’s E-911 Center uses the new public safety radio system

He then walked us through the process. “In the old system a call would come into 911, then be transferred over to a firefighter setting in what we call the watch room for dispatch room at the main fire station. They would then contact the various stations that would then go out and respond to the emergency call. It’s no longer like that,” Roberts said. “When the call comes into 911 now, it goes immediately to the city dispatch. The city dispatch sends the information out straight to our fire stations. We’ve cut out the middleman. All with the hope and understanding that we are going to cut down the response time to get to people who are in need!”

With the old system dispatchers were not provided with training on how to use the system “It was sink or swim,” said Marla Bonner, the Dispatch Director for the Clarksville Police Department. With the new system Dispatch Supervisors receive 8 hours of training on the new system, and the 911 operators receive 4 hours. “It makes a world of difference,” she said. Bonner added in the 8 hours on the new system, “there hasn’t been any complaints at all.”

Marla Bonner, the Dispatch Director for the Clarksville Police Department.

Marla Bonner, the Dispatch Director for the Clarksville Police Department.

Mayor McMillan retook the podium, and thanked everyone for the cooperation between every body that is been involved in this project from the Police Department, fire department, the vendor, to the consultants. “It was their mutual cooperation that got us to where we are today. I think what it does is show what can happen when we all work together for a common goal, and a common result; and in this case that’s was to make sure that the city of Clarksville has the best public safety system that we can possibly have for the benefit of our citizens.”

The new radio system is a 800mhz Motorola APCO project 25 phase 2, TDMA and FDMA system; composed of 3 sites and 8 channels. It is also tied into the State of Tennessee Homeland Security radio system in Nashville. “This is the latest technology, and fundamentally at the end of the day it supports operations of clear communications,” said McGannon who served as the consultant on the new system. “To be able to talk to people using the system clearly is really the goal.”

For scanner buffs there will be one major disappointment from the new system, and that is that it is reportedly encrypted from end-to-end. This was for the safety of the first responders using the radio system according to the city.

While some police and fire operations do require a higher level of security, such as the drug task force, criminal investigators, and SWAT teams; many do not; and consideration should be given to allowing the public limited access to the system while at the same time ensuring legitimate safety and security concerns are handled. One method of doing so is for the City of Clarksville to consider providing official live streaming audio feeds online that could provide controllable access to what the public could receive. This is something I hope the city will consider doing in the near future.


About Bill Larson

    Bill Larson

    Bill Larson is the Creator and Publisher of Clarksville Online, and works as a network administrator for Compu-Net Enterprises. He is politically and socially active in the community. Bill serves on the board of the Clarksville Community Concert Association, and is a member of the Friends of Dunbar Cave.

    You can reach him via telephone at 931-249-0043 or via the email address below.

    Email: clarksville@clarksvilleonline.com

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