Measure twice, cut once
When the subject of rebanding comes up, some speak of it as the Hurricane Katrina of the public safety radio community. In many ways, they are correct. For the unprepared, it is a disaster.
Natural disasters have taught us the lessons of being prepared. We must know what resources we can call on for help in our time of need. It is just as important not to be timid about calling on those resources when the need is bearing down on us.
As the rebanding storm was still forming out in the FCC Sea, I sent up warning flags. For instance, I sent an invitation to significant people in our city government’s finance, legal, city manager and public safety departments. They were invited to attend a presentation at which I explained what rebanding entailed, why it was needed and how I planned to deal with it.
I detailed the need to meet expected deadlines and why their cooperation in quickly processing contracts and agreements would be critical to a satisfactory outcome. I explained why it was necessary to retain an attorney with highly specialized technical and legal experience. I described how we would be contracting with Nextel (later Sprint) and the equipment vendor and consultants. Questions from these city leaders were addressed, and I promised to follow up with regular updates. This advanced involvement of our city leadership has proved itself in the cooperation and support I have received.
We selected Alan Tilles (of Shulman Rogers Pordy Gandal & Ecker, who normally writes MRT‘s Final Word column) as the attorney to represent us in our negotiations. I look back on this as one of the best decisions I have made. The rough seas of complicated agreements, technical issues and tough negotiation have been virtually headache-free for me. I have talked to others who lack this sort of aid, and their experience sounds difficult. I prefer having an experienced pilot at the helm rather than calling for a rescue when I am on the rocks.
I have heard some suggest that rebanding is an opportunity to get new equipment for free. While this may be true to some degree, it is not a focus of mine. I want what we are entitled to, but I want to be fair. I am not approaching rebanding as a way to shake down the other party. My goal is to be restored with as little disagreement as possible.
So far, the process has been exceptionally smooth. I have relied on my staff to provide the rebanding contractor, consultant and attorney with all required technical information. I try to insert myself as little as possible, finding that my staff appreciates the confidence I have in them.
We have regular conference calls with the contractor — in our case, Motorola. I have found them and their subcontractors to be very professional and thorough in their work. Our relationship has been one of working together to reach the shore on the other side of rebanding. We have retained a consultant (RCC) to provide a second opinion and review of the contractor’s proposed plan. I also believe in “measure twice, cut once.” None of us wants to make a mistake, as the consequences are too serious.
We had just come out of a major system upgrade last year when we embarked on the “Lower 120” phase of our rebanding. Proud of the very smooth, no-downtime upgrade, we wanted to keep our winning streak going. Things appeared to be going well until we realized that there was apparently a bug in the newly installed rebanding system software now in our controller. Cool heads prevailed: We rolled back to the unmodified backup controller, and the manufacturer and my technical team worked through the night and subsequent days to analyze the problem and install a rapidly patched software fix. We did not get sidetracked by finger-pointing and arguing.
This event set the tone for our yet-to-come final phase and the teamwork of legal, technical and managerial expertise that will see us through the rest of the storm.
Rik Rasmussen is radio system manager for the city and county of Durham, N.C.