County approves new 911 system

Published 10:30 am Thursday, September 8, 2022

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On Tuesday, the Troup County Board of Commissioners signed off on an intergovernmental agreement with the City of LaGrange that will allow for a complete overhaul of the county’s 911 system.

The city previously agreed to a five-year deal with Motorola that includes maintenance and software upgrades at total cost of $5,315,932. Under the intergovernmental agreement, LaGrange and the county will share the costs for the system 50-50.

Three new tower sites were also proposed, from which the county and city would evenly split any costs and revenues. New towers were proposed for Southeast Troup County and Liberty Hill in Northwest Troup County. Moving the “Boy Scout Hill” tower out of Harris County into Troup County is also under consideration.

The current countywide 911 system is about six years old but parts of the system are more than 20 years old and are no longer being sold.

LaGrange Information Technology Director Alan Slaughenhaupt advised that when these components break, they have to try to find replacement parts on the “gray market” because they can’t otherwise find them anymore.

Troup County Fire Chief Michael Strickland was in full support of the upgrades, saying they have identified areas of the county where they regularly have signal loss.

“We’re one major component [loss] away from having a total system failure,” Strickland said because of the difficulty finding replacement components. “The fire department fully supports upgrading the system to ensure solid radio communications at all times.”

The agreement will upgrade the current countywide 800 MHz radio system from multicast to a simulcast system. Simulcast systems transmits signals from all towers on the same frequency simultaneously rather than on multiple frequencies, which helps signals reach into buildings. 

County Manager Eric Mosley advised Hogansville and West Point will not be participating in the Motorola upgrades, despite talks with them to join in the new system. Hogansville is also upgrading its 911 system, just going a different route. West Point has their own 911 system and have dispatched their own calls for years.

On Aug. 1, the Hogansville City Council approved a contract with Dean’s Commercial Two-Way out of Cataula to replace their emergency broadcast system at a cost not to exceed $204,000.

Hogansville Interim City Manager Lisa Kelly previously advised that the city decided to go another way because the Motorola system would have left them with a couple major holes right in the city. Specifically, an area around Family Dollar and near the police station gets no radio service. Several other areas near I-85 receive spotty coverage. Kelly said the Motorola system would not address these holes.

Kelly noted that nothing should change for emergency service for Hogansville residents. The county will still answer the city’s 911 calls and connect them back to Hogansville to dispatch.

Mosley raised concerns that when calls are sent back to Hogansville, their officers will not be able to directly communicate with other agencies.

“When a 911 call comes in comes in from Hogansville, it comes to our 911 center. Once we figure out that it’s from Hogansville, we then have to transfer the call to the Hogansville Police Department and their dispatcher,” Mosley said. “Our concern is that their police department won’t be able to communicate with EMS nor the fire department because we’ll be on a different system. There will be no cross communication between the police department and any other agency without creating a manual patch, which will have to be done at the 911 center every time they want to call.”

The county’s main concern is that Hogansville’s officers will not be able to directly communicate with other agencies in the event of a major emergency.

“If they have an emergency and they need help from other states, other counties, other places, they’re not going to communicate with anyone [else],” Glen Hendry of Motorola said. “They’re going to be an island unto themselves. With your communication system, you can communicate with anybody coming in from across the country to help you out.”

According to Hendry, the new countywide system is the current Georgia standard for intergovernmental communications. It covers about 87 percent of the state based on population. Most of that is based on Metro Atlanta and some other counties use different systems, including Cobb County and notably nearby Harris County.  

The county and LaGrange invited Hogansville and West Point to join in the new Motorola system upgrade in order to have the whole county under one umbrella, but both have chosen to not participate. 

Kelly said Hogansville has chosen to go with the other system because it gives them the best service for normal day-to-day operations. She said in the event of a bigger emergency they can still communicate with Troup 911 to relay information to other agencies.

“We feel this is the best option we have,” she said.

Ultimately, it’s up to each of the cities to make their own decisions.

“I do believe that we have done all that we can do. We’ve reached out to the two different communities and talked with their leadership about it and just the decision had been made to go on their own,” Commission Chair Patrick Crews said. “We’ve offered that and think it would be best for all of us, but they chose that direction.”

The county is still working with Hogansville to improve 911 service for its area. Mosley said they recently spoke with the city about hanging their new antenna on a tower that the county owns in Hogansville.

Mosley acknowledged the new system may have coverage issues in North Troup County — especially around Liberty Hill — which is why they have proposed a new tower to help cover the area.