Commission gives go-ahead for Phase 1 of radio system overhaul

Updated: Dec 8, 2021


On Monday night, the Emanuel County Board of Commissioners took the first step in what has been a topic of discussion for many years now, approving the first of three phases necessary to overhaul the county’s outdated emergency radio system. Phase 1, a consulting agreement, comes with a price tag of approximately $34,000 with more votes for Phases 2 and 3 to potentially follow as the expensive, complicated yet necessary project unfolds. On Monday night, County Administrator Guy Singletary, the commissioners, and emergency department leaders agreed on the need to move ahead with the planning phase. Sheriff Jeffrey Brewer, EMA Director Martha Culbreth, EMS Director Courtney Terwilliger, and County Fire Chief Nick Ivey all gave their input prior to the commission’s 5-0 unanimous vote.


Thanks to that vote, an independent public safety radio communications consulting group by the name of TUSA will now come in to generate a comprehensive area report of what is needed to overhaul the county’s antiquated radio system. TUSA will be on hand tentatively May 4 to meet with the various departments and agencies here to determine those needs, then deliver recommendation/s/ to the county about how to proceed with purchases and implementation thereafter.


Phase 1 is expected to take three months. TUSA is tasked with handling these types of needs for numerous city and county governments throughout the state, all of various sizes.


“This is a complex project in general because you’re dealing with radio. It’s also complicated because we’re the sixth largest county by size in the state and we touch I think 13 other counties, which is more than any other county in the state. That means we have to work with and communicate with all those other counties,” Singletary said as he opened his presentation of a proposal received from TUSA. “We’ve been talking about it for about five years now, and the time to get started is now with the next round of SPLOST scheduled in the coming years.”


He then gave the floor to the aforementioned public safety leaders.


Sheriff Brewer spoke first, expressing his full backing of the project. “The system we have, we’d had it for many, many years. There are very few municipalities use this system any more because it’s so outdated. Our equipment is outdated; I don’t think we can even get parts to make repairs any more. We need to get up with the times. We’ve been stagnant in our communications system. There are many dead spots in the county; we’re unable to communicate in many of them. Basically, this project will get us up with the times, and I support it wholeheartedly.”


Culbreth spoke next, explaining that the lack of updated equipment has been a hinderance EMA has had to work through in the recent past. “As far as 911, we were supposed to get another radio… We’ve got four positions in the county in the dispatch room, but we can’t even get another radio for the new position because it’s so outdated.”


Terwilliger, when given the floor, stated that the system hasn’t changed since he has been director. “The system we’re using, it’s still the same one as far as frequencies go. It’s the same one we used when I started. It’s old, and when you get around the Oak Park area, places in the north end of the county, you can’t talk on the radio.” He, like Sheriff Brewer, offered that if his department could be of assistance expediting the overhaul process, Emanuel County EMS would be happy to help.


From a fire perspective, Ivey echoed those sentiments. “These dead spots in the county, there are a lot of them—especially around Oak Park. When you’re fighting structure fires, we can’t communicate with 911. That’s a big problem for us. It’s a safety issue.”


After reviewing the proposal and hearing these comments, Commission Chair Jim Sherrod and Commissioner James Canady both went on the record to state their support of choosing TUSA for the job because it’s an independent company with no interest in a particular brand of radio communication products and because the company will work the job from start to finish.


Canady made the motion to enter into an agreement with TUSA to complete Phase 1. Commissioner Desse Davis seconded, and the vote fell 5-0.


The board also approved a few “formalities,” including the School Resource Officer Agreement, a resolution to pay the county’s portion of the district attorney’s retirement benefits (as required by the state, applicable for the entire circuit), and a proposal concerning the county’s upcoming yearly audit. The first two of those formalities have already been enacted by the county government in years past with no changes to this year’s agreements. The only change to the audit agreement this year is the company in charge, Mauldin & Jenkins. All three of these agenda items required individual votes, which were all unanimous.


The board also unanimously approved the minutes from the previous month’s meeting.


The Emanuel County Board of Commissioners will next meet May 17 at 6 p.m. inside the board room of the John C. Coleman Hotel.

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