Radio communication problems have plagued Wayne County first responders for decades.

That’s why fixing those problems became a Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program priority. With American Rescue Plan Act dollars available, county officials hope to finally fix areas with poor reception for emergency radios.

Ritter Strategic Strategies, a consulting firm owned by Wayne County Council member Barry Ritter, presented to council and commissioners during a Jan. 17 workshop results of a system assessment by Anthem Planning of Maryland. Anthem checked physical infrastructure and received feedback from county emergency responders. The assessment resulted in a lengthy report and a recommended solution.

The HELP strategic investment plan includes $81,800 for the assessment by Ritter and his subcontractors, which Ritter said would be under budget, and $1.5 million to implement a solution. The commissioners have also discussed making additional uncommitted ARPA dollars available, if necessary.

County law enforcement and ambulance services previously migrated to the state’s Integrated Public Safety Commission 700/800 megahertz Motorola statewide system. The system uses one tower located on West Main Street in Richmond, which can become overloaded during high-volume emergency incidents.

The county’s 12 volunteer fire departments use older very high frequency (VHF) technology. That system includes three towers — one each in Centerville, Hagerstown and Richmond. 

Anthem’s assessment concluded that the systems provided 84% coverage in the county, with significant dead spots in the northeastern and southwestern portions of the county. Those have long been known as weaknesses in the communication system.

The proposed solution is to add 700/800 megahertz infrastructure to the existing VHF tower at the Wayne County Highway Department along U.S. 40 west of Centerville. Anthem believes that will boost acceptable radio coverage to 93.3% of the county.

The need to improve just one tower saves money. Ritter said the project will need two parts: the infrastructure and new radios and pagers for the volunteer fire departments. Any tower savings could leave ARPA money to purchase those radios.

The next step is for commissioners to accept or refuse the recommendation. Ritter’s company would then develop the specifications to put out a request for proposals from vendors. The project must be under contract by the end of 2024 under ARPA guidelines.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 24 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.