Commissioners approve radio upgrade for first responders, new ambulance

Oct. 5—The Cass County Commissioners approved a radio upgrade for countywide first responders and the purchase of an additional ambulance for Cass County Emergency Medical Services on Monday.

One of the largest discussions involved a proposal for a new radio system. Cass County Sheriff Ed Schroder and Emergency Management Agency Director Rocky Buffum described some of the problems responders are having with the current radio system.

"I don't know what year, but there was a Duplex radio system from the sheriff's office that was moved to the first responders and fire departments when the sheriff's office moved to the statewide 800 system," Schroder said. "That system has been degrading and failing. It's had some upgrades throughout that time, but it's basically not working very well for the fire departments and the ambulance service."

The old radio system has caused problems when agencies across the county need to communicate with one another. Schroder said Cass County EMS in particular brought the issue to light after struggling to speak with various fire departments.

"In a nutshell, the reason for this is dead spots in the county," Commissioner Ryan Browning questioned Schroder. "You can't get the northern part of the county in Royal Center, Lucerne, across to Twelve Mile, and then you get to the southeast part of the county and there's not radio communications or it's very spotty."

"That's correct," Schroder responded. "...They were having a lot of dead spots, and if you spent time talking to the rural fire departments, when the federal government required narrowband, it increased the frequency. That made it so (radio transmissions) traveled less, so there are locations in the Royal Center area where you aren't able to talk to dispatch even on a mobile radio."

To remedy the problem, Buffum looked at the possibly of upgrading the very high frequency radio system that the fire departments and EMS are currently using. After determining that the project's base cost would top $1 million with a possible $30,000 annual maintenance fee paid by the county after the warranty expired, Buffum looked into other options.

Schroder told the commissioners that the next option was to use Project Hoosier SAFE-T, a "statewide backbone that users are on for free; you just have to provide the radios."

According to Indiana's state website, Project Hoosier SAFE-T, or Safety Acting For Everyone-Together, is an Integrated Public Safety Commission initiative to replace old, outdated communications systems so local agencies can respond to emergencies and coordinate between agencies when necessary.

The website touts the system itself is a "statewide, interoperable, digital 800 MHz trunked voice and mobile data communications network for public safety officials." Buffum sent out request for proposals using the state's system. He received three and ultimately chose one submitted by telecommunications company Motorola.

"This will solve that problem," Schroder said. "Motorola has that statewide system and they have at least 95% coverage. We think it's actually probably better, but their proposal will get into it. It will increase the voice quality as well as the effectiveness of the radios."

The proposal will cost the county up to $1,177,692. However, Schroder said the county will save more money long-term due to decreased maintenance costs.

"There'd be no backbone, no infrastructure for Cass County to maintain, which I think is a very significant thing when you look at elevated costs for some of the equipment required," he said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to accept the request for a countywide radio upgrade.

Cass County EMS Director Brady Wiles also had a request for the commissioners, asking for approval to purchase a 2009 E450 ambulance with 64,000 miles. The ambulance is being sold for $24,200 by North Central Ambulance and has been used by Culver-Union Township EMS.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the purchase.

Cass County Health Department Administrator Serenity Alter also told the commissioners that the department recently received a large supply of Clorox wipes for the community.

"We did get an entire semi load of Clorox wipes today for free," she said. "There are about 38 pallets of them, so if anybody needs Clorox wipes for anything, for home or for anything, they're free to pass out to the community."

Cass County Economic Development Director Christy Householder asked the commissioners to approve her request for proposal to use READI Grant funds to widen Cass County residents' access to broadband.

"Submissions are going to be due Nov. 7, 2022, by 12 p.m. to my office," she said. "Then we'll set up a meeting. I'll be on your agenda to offer the best bid at your meeting in November. We're seeking to provide high speed fiber internet to connect to and expand from the existing fiber ring. Minimum speed requirements of 100 Mbps download and 25 Mbps upload."

The fiber will cover unincorporated areas of the county, and Householder said she wants to have a pricing structure for residents so broadband is available for low-income families. The RFP stipulates that the broadband infrastructure must be in place and functional by Aug. 21, 2026, to follow READI Grant requirements.

Householder said she is expecting at least a $3 million investment from companies submitting proposals to match the county's $1 million match investment and $1 million from the READI Grant. Householder added that she plans to ask for a $2 million bond to cover county and state costs just in case.

"We will ask for a specific timeline of tasks and how they would document it to us," she said. "We want to know in detail the company's service level of agreement, including their liability, mean time to respond, mean time to repair and packet loss. We want to know if they are in any current state or federal grant programs and if they're up to date or where they're at in their timeline."

Householder said she is hoping to have the contract for the work awarded to a company by the commissioners meeting on Nov. 21.