1. Why does the Clackamas County Emergency Radio System need replacing?
There are 5 primary reasons why the communication system requires replacement:
a) End of Life – The existing analog radio system components are already beyond their end of life/end of support or will become unsupported by the vendors as of December 2017 or the “End of Life”. (See question #2 below for additional information.)
b) Transition to Digital Technology – Whether its smart phones, TV’s, or public safety radios the industry and the technology they invent and market has converted to digital. In order to meet nationally recognized APCO (Association of Public Safety Communication Officers) interoperable standards for Public Safety Communications, the future, and current equipment is all based upon current digital technologies.
c) Interoperability – The ability of public safety responders to share information via voice and data communications systems, on demand, in real time, when needed, and as authorized. See question # 7 below for additional information.
d) Population Growth – With the population growth over the last 20 years in Clackamas County, additional radio coverage is required.
e) System Coverage – The existing communication system has limited coverage or service along Hwy 26 in the Mt Hood area and up the Clackamas drainage from Estacada south. Further “in building” radio coverage to key buildings like schools, hospitals, retail centers, and large office buildings must be improved.
2. What do we mean by “End of life”?
The existing analog radio system is early 1990’s technology and the components have either become or will become unsupported by the vendors as of December 2017. “Unsupported”
means that replacement parts will be increasingly difficult to find due to the manufacturer’s no longer supporting the product lines and the diminished availability of refurbished parts. The radio vendor no longer can guarantee that the existing analog radio system can be repaired when an unsupported component or assembly fail. In addition, many of the engineers and system technology experts in the radio industry are either focused on newer digital technology or have retired. The ability to find knowledgeable individuals to support the existing analog radio system is becoming increasingly difficult.
The current system has experienced an increasing number of system component failures that have only been mitigated due to the tenacity of the technicians. These failures have forced the technicians to search on-line auction sites and third-party vendors in efforts to obtain replacement parts or cannibalize other system parts or borrow parts from neighboring public safety jurisdictions. A failure in one of the major components would severely impact the overall operation of the public safety radio system, limit system usage in terms of availability, and reduce or eliminate coverage in much of the geographical area now served. Replacement of key components with the new technology would take considerable time, disabling the system for as much as 6 months with an emergency purchase in place. It should be noted that this would be a very expensive upgrade/replacement as it will be unplanned and unscheduled. This would also jeopardize the ability of emergency responders to communicate efficiently, effectively, and – ultimately – field unit and citizen safety. A failure during a major incident or disaster like the Clackamas Town Center shooting would severely limit live saving communications.
3. Who does the communications system serve?
The communication system serves the majority of law enforcement and fire/EMS agencies in Clackamas County. The replacement system will allow all agencies countywide to utilize the same system.
4. Who else does the system serve beyond public safety?
The system also serves various public works departments, schools, Hospitals, Ambulance and EMT services and other public users to ensure coordinated voice and data communications (interoperability).
5. Were other types of technologies looked at besides digital two-way radios?
Yes, many systems were considered, among them fiber optics, satellite phones, ham radios, cell phones and Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA), the system widely used in Europe but not in North America. These systems were excluded for a variety of reasons; the most common being high cost, instability under stress and the inability to give priority to emergency service providers.
6. What other agencies have made this upgrade to digital and how did they fund it?
Other Digital systems that have been or are in the process of upgrading in nearby jurisdictions:
- City of Portland – Bonds
- Frontier (Gilliam/Sherman/Wheeler) – Operating Funds / Tax wind farm revenue
- Lane County – Bond
- Benton County – Bond
- Linn County – Bond
- TriMet – Bond
- Rogue Valley Transit – Bond
- Salem (RFP) – TBD
- Deschutes County (RFP) – TBD
- ODOT / OSP – Legislature
- Washington State Patrol – Operating Funds
- Pierce County – Bond
- Pierce County Transit – Bond
- Tacoma – Bond
- King County – Bond
- Port of Seattle – Bond
- City of Seattle – Bond
- City of Spokane – Bond
- Ada County (City of Boise) – Bond
- Idaho State Patrol – Bond
- Kootenai County – TBD
- Bond Canyon County – Bond
7. What is interoperability?
The ability of public safety responders to share information via voice and data communications systems, on demand, in real time, when needed, and as authorized. Public safety communications can occur only when the communications paths (frequencies, equipment and signaling) are compatible. Interoperability is an important issue for law enforcement, firefighting, EMS, and other public health and safety departments, because first responders need to be able to communicate with one another during wide-scale emergencies. C800 first responders do this many times per month with joint responses to fires and traffic pursuits among other things.
This all became evident during the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks and multiple other disasters, many agencies cannot exchange information because they operate widely disparate hardware that is incompatible. The State and Federal governments post September 2001 require all public safety entities to have interoperability. The current systems are not capable of this.
8. Will the new radio system be interoperable?
Interoperability depends on agreements between jurisdictions about how they will communicate and operate together. C800 has current agreements and will be entering into additional ones to insure interoperability with adjacent systems such as: Washington County / City of Portland/Multnomah County; Clark County Washington; Columbia County; Marian County; Yamhill County; Hood River County; Oregon State Police and ODOT; FBI and other federal agencies.
9. How many radio sites are there?
There are 10 existing sites in Clackamas County and 14 new sites will be added.
10. How many police / fire / EMS radios are there?
Clackamas County public safety users have 2,500 portable, mobile, and data radios.
11. Who are WCCCA and C800?
The Washington County Consolidated Communication Agency (WCCCA), and the Clackamas 800 Radio Group (C800), both ORS 190 organizations (Government Joint Ventures); each owns and operates the public safety communications system serving their respective counties. The WCCCA/C800 partnership is comprised of all the public safety providers within Washington and Clackamas counties with the exception of the City of Milwaukie, Hoodland RFPD, and Colton RFPD which will be joining in the near future. Its mission is to provide public safety radio and data communications for the member agencies. WCCCA and C800 formed a partnership to combine the systems for greater efficiencies and interoperability of public safety communications. WCCCA manages and maintains the combined system.
12. Who will manage and maintain the new upgraded system?
When the radio project is complete, the new system will be managed by C800 with maintenance by WCCCA Technical Services who currently maintains the system.
13. If we wait, won’t the technology get less expensive as more jurisdictions will have implemented replacements?
This premise certainly has proven to be true within some technology fields – a smart phone is introduced with a $500 to $800 price tag and 2 years later it’s sold for $50. With few exceptions, Smart Phones are subsidize by a contract with the service provider that has amortized the difference between the handset cost and the consumer price in the monthly contract costs. Once the customer has paid that subsidy off the amount previously used to pay off subsidy is now 100% profit to the cellular provider. This is not a model that fits Public Safety. Unfortunately public safety communications equipment has a limited market and this condition does not happen. There is some reduction in price from initial introduction to actual production runs but that has already happened to this equipment. We do, however, see significant discounts when large quantities are ordered at one time with portable and mobile radios. This project is for infrastructure equipment however and unless radios are coupled with the infrastructure substantial discounts are very unlikely… especially in low volumes.
14. If we wait, won’t the federal government come to the rescue?
Unfortunately, no. The existing system has been able to utilize over $5M in federal grants but the bulk of those opportunities are no longer available. The Federal and State Homeland Security grants are still sometimes available but are in small denominations and have generally been awarded to multiple jurisdictions for equity versus a large infrastructure project. Most often these have been in the form of matching funds not fully funded federal initiatives.
15. If we don’t upgrade in a timely manner, what would happen?
The equipment in our infrastructure ranges from 4 to 20 years old. Most of this equipment has reached or is rapidly reaching end of life and/or end of support. The manufactures have generally set December of 2017 as a final date. As it will take up to 3 years to select suppliers, construct new communications sites, and install new equipment we are most likely to be at a risk of non-recoverable failures well into our new system construction cycle. The longer we delay the longer we remain at a level of increasing risk of catastrophic failure. As our equipment moves beyond end of life and/or end of support our ability to maintain and or replace this equipment becomes difficult and potentially impossible.