| WEAKLEY COUNTY 911 – Tabby Canady, dispatcher for Weakley County 9-1-1, is hard at work at the office that is now mirrored with the Martin Police dispatch. |
It’s practically unheard of for municipal and county public safety agencies to share resources fully and for a common purpose. And yet this is what happened recently in West Tennessee when Weakley County and the City of Martin decided to treat their two separate public safety dispatch centers more or less as one center located at two sites.
With the help of Zetron reseller, Area Wide Communications of Medina, the two agencies installed identical Zetron dispatching equipment at both sites, connected them by fiber-optic cable, and set up their centers to mirror one another.
Then they restructured their agencies to share communications tasks, equipment and even personnel. As a result, the two agencies are not only able to serve their constituencies more effectively on a day-to-day basis.
They are also able to provide complete back up for each other if either agency should suffer a catastrophic failure.
Weakley County 9-1-1
As the county’s primary public safety answering point (PSAP), the Weakley County Emergency 9-1-1 Center answers all of the county’s 9-1-1 calls and provides dispatching for the entire county and its municipalities, except for of the City of Martin, which does its own dispatching.
A bolt of lightning
According to Jamison Peevyhouse, director of Weakley County 9-1-1, the move to install new equipment and share it between the two agencies was inspired by a bolt of lightning.
“In May of 2008, we took a lightning strike at our local telephone company that obliterated our central office and every phone line in a third of the county for five days,” he says.
“We lost all 9-1-1 ability here at the main PSAP, and it took us about 30 days to get everything back up and running and fully operational.”
Peevyhouse says that although they were able to use their secondary PSAP while service at the main office was being restored, this solution was far from optimal because it slowed their response times.
There was no way to fund the level of service they needed at the secondary PSAP, however, so it became his mission to find a way to ensure that the main PSAP could be made fully redundant.
Enter Area Wide
Peevyhouse sought the help of the agency’s long-time communications equipment and service provider, Area Wide Communications, to devise a solution that would meet his requirements at the most reasonable cost.
The solution Ray Roberts of Area Wide proposed was a radical one that would involve installing new equipment at both centers and connecting them so that each would operate as if they were both located in the same room.
Among other things, this would require upgrading the dispatching equipment at both locations.
The implementation process at Weakley County was fairly simple because they kept the old equipment running while they installed the new equipment in another room.
“We put everything in place, and then it was just a matter of setting the units at each dispatch position and turning them on,” says Ray Roberts.
“We kept the PSAP up and running and never took any equipment out of service until it was time to change over.”
At the Martin Police Department it wasn’t quite as simple.
“Theirs was a smaller area,” says Roberts, “but we were still able to get in and mount the equipment and rack it up and connect the phone lines and antennas. And while we did that, they stayed on the air.”
“We made sure that each of the channels was the same at both locations,” he continues. “So if the sheriff’s channel has a problem, at Martin they can just hit their main standby button, and they’ll be talking on the radio that takes care of the sheriff’s channel. This gives them both full redundancy.”
At this writing, a microwave tower is being installed to back up the fiber cable, adding yet another tier of redundancy.
The system, which went live in May of 2010, is not just a point of pride for Peevyhouse. He also sees it as a practical solution at a time when demands on PSAPs are increasing and budgets are tight.
“We went from being two separate entities to one center with full redundancy,” he says. “And we accomplished that by redoing our entire infrastructure very inexpensively.
“I don’t think you’d find a better solution for redundant communications anywhere else at the price we paid.”
“It’s clear that as public safety agencies, we need to get our priorities right,” he continues, “and we shouldn’t let politics get in the way. More and more is being asked of us. How are we going to handle that without raising taxes or fees? We do it by working together.”
From the start, an upgrade of their Zetron’s Series 4000 radio dispatch system seemed like the best approach for this project.
Weakley County had used Zetron consoles for years, and even though they were at the end of their life cycle, they had served reliably and well.
But Peevyhouse was taking nothing for granted. He spent several days visiting PSAPs throughout Tennessee to see which equipment they were running, how they felt about it, and what it cost.
This only convinced him further that upgrading to new Zetron equipment would be the best approach.
As a result, the Zetron equipment chosen for the solution would include:
• Two Zetron Model 4048 Common Controllers.
• Six Zetron Integrator RD Workstations, four at Weakley 9-1-1 and two at Martin.
• Six Zetron Intelligent Radio Interface Modules (iRIMs) for use with Kenwood radios.
The implementation would involve installing two new common controllers, one at Weakly County 9-1-1 and the other at the dispatch center in the City of Martin about 12 miles away. Each location would install Integrator RD dispatch consoles and be equipped to utilize the same radio channels.
They would be connected through a fiber-optic cable.
From analog to
digital… and back
“One key element we were trying to work in,” says Peevyhouse, “was a RAD device at each location. It would convert the analog voice and data from the controller at one site to digital, and then send it down the fiber pipe.
“The signal would be converted back to analog by the RAD at the other end. I’d be able to key up at Weakley, select Martin and hit the button.
“My voice would go through the system, change to digital, go down the pipe 12-and-a-half miles to Martin’s facility, convert back to analog and then go out their radio and their tower. There’d be no lag time between the two sites. It would be really slick.”
Editor’s note: Tina Blade is a writer for the Zetron Advantage newsletter. This article was featured in the national newsletter for its August edition.