Deschutes County dispatch installed a new, but faulty 9-1-1 radio system more than a year ago. Officials involved say the system has come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go for it to be considered acceptable for public safety.
Police officers say the two main problems they’re having are volume and dropped calls. They say radio calls can be way too loud, way too soft, or simply not clear enough. Dropped calls can be dangerous because an officer in a crisis situation may not be able to get on the radio and call for help.
"You don't know if your communication its reliable. so all those things together, combined, create an untrusting, unreliable communications system, so that’s the big problem,” Bend Patrol Capt. Paul Kansky said Wednesday. That said, Kansky stressed that county officials are actively working to address these problems.
At another 911 update Wednesday with county officials and law enforcement, engineers with AdComm Engineering Company said it's just a matter of fine-tuning the audio quality.
To do that, police and fire officials are mapping out the areas where they say their reception is spotty, kind of like how your cellphone coverage works. Then, engineers will look at those areas and figure out where the gaps in coverage are. Officials with AdComm admit could take years to fix those areas, depending on how many sites they'll have to put in and how much they’ll cost.
Their goal is to make sure the radio is operating at a public safety grade of 3.4 delivered audio quality. DAQ is how engineers measure how clear a person's voice is heard over the radio. Thus far, most of the system has been operating at a functional level, but there are still some areas that are too low. Right now, some places are still sitting at a 3.0 DAQ.
"The state of Oregon system was originally designed for a 3.0. So when the original contract was signed with the state of Oregon, since some of the sites are state of Oregon sites, the goal was at that point to design them for 3.0.,” said Joe Blaschka, an AdComm engineer and the point person on the project.
He said, “There’s not a significant difference between a 3.0 and 3.4. There's some difference, but it's not a significant difference."
The scale for DAQ is zero to five. Zero means the radio system doesn't work at all and five means it's perfect. Blaschka said a lot of our county's areas are operating closer to a 4.0 or 4.5 and 3.4 is just where the audio quality needs to be at the boundary.
Part of plugging those gaps in coverage involves adding a permanent tower where right now, there's only a temporary one. That tower has been located on Overturf Butte. The problem is, right now, that area's zoned to be a residential property, but really it's a public facility property. To move forward, engineers say zoning and official documentations just need to match up.
"We can't apply for permits until the rezone process has been completed, which I think will be at some point in November," Blaschka said. "At that point our goal is to apply to file for the actual construction permit and have the drawings and everything ready to go in the end of November, December time frame."
Overall, the people who use this radio system and those who are working to improve it want you to know communications are, in fact, getting better, but there's still more work to be done.