Oakland County, MI, selects M/A-Com 800MHz network
Oakland County, MI, has selected M/A-Com, Lowell, MA, to supply a digital 800MHz radio communications system to replace the county’s 10-year-old, eight-site analog trunked system. Motorola supplied the current 14-channel system.
“Our goal is to bring interoperability to all public safety agencies in the county,” said Patricia Coates, CLEMIS administrator. CLEMIS is the Courts Law Enforcement Management Information System, a consortium of 80 police agencies in southeastern Michigan.
“Many of the county’s police and fire agencies use various VHF, UHF and 800MHz systems that cannot talk with each other on mutual aid frequencies. The new system responds to their requests,” Coates said.
Positioned north of Detroit, Oakland County has more people than the individual states of Vermont, North Dakota, Montana, Alaska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia. With about 1.2 million residents, the county as a separate entity would rank No. 32 among metropolitan areas. At least two factors, in-building coverage and data capability, led Oakland County to select the proprietary OpenSky digital system from M/A-Com instead of sharing the state of Michigan’s new Project 25 standard digital system made by Motorola.
“The state system meets the needs of state users and others in more rural areas. We don’t disparage it in any way. Oakland County had specific needs for in-building coverage because we have many large office buildings such as the Palace of Auburn Hills and the Chrysler headquarters. We didn’t think the state system, designed to serve vehicular radios, would take care of our needs,” Coates said.
Phil Bertolini, the county’s director of information technology, said the state system did not offer the option of data communications when the county was looking for a replacement radio system. He said the county’s use of CLEMIS requires data delivery at a reasonable speed.
The commander of the Michigan State Police Communications Division, Capt. Thomas J. Miller, said that the state was completing a $20.3 million dollar upgrade to Motorola’s new Project 25 IP voice platform that would provide future capability for integrated voice and data communications, but the data component is not funded as part of the current upgrade.
Oakland County’s present system supports 1,600 mobiles and portables. Coates said that agencies that may join the new system could raise the total as high as 5,000.
Bertolini explained that some of the systems used by other agencies are aging and need replacement, which made an “enterprise solution” such as the digital system attractive to them. But he said the main purpose of the system is to achieve interoperability within the county.
As for interoperability with the state system, Coates said that the state traditionally offers one control station at a county’s central dispatch facility for connection with the state system. But Oakland County differs because it includes 30 autonomous dispatch centers operated by various agencies. She said that the OpenSky digital system has gateway opportunities for interoperability, and the use of 800MHz NPSPAC frequencies requires interoperability.
Miller added: “I’m not sure how much interoperability, if any, we will be able to have between the two systems. We plan to meet with Oakland County officials to discuss it.”
Plans to use 800MHz these days must take into account the potential for interference from IDEN digital commercial mobile radio systems such as those operated by Nextel Communications, Reston, VA. Coates said that the current Oakland County analog system receives a slight amount of interference, and that Nextel has been cooperating in its selection of frequencies used at its cell sites to minimize the problem.
Coates said that the new digital system is being funded by a surcharge on telephone bills. She said that a Michigan statute, Public Act 32 of 1986, as amended, allows money from the surcharge to be used for public safety agency communications, including police and fire departments.
In 1999, when the county commissioners approved the telephone bill surcharge at the maximum 4% allowed by the state, the Libertarian Party of Oakland County, among others, opposed the action. Greg Dirasian, the LPOC vice chairman, spoke at a commission hearing on the subject.
Dirasian claimed that a 1994 amendment to Public Act 32 allowed the surcharge to be used to fund emergency telephone operations, not the construction of a new radio communications system. He contended that money used for such construction should be classified as general revenue and, under Michigan law, must be voted on by the citizens of Oakland County. The commissioners approved the 4% surcharge anyway, and some of the money is being used to pay for the new radio system.