Howard County fixing radio system issues

KOKOMO, Ind. – Howard County officials believe they have solved a recent wave of issues first responders and other government personnel might have experienced with the county-wide radio system.

The county's Project 25, or P25, radio was put in place last summer with the idea that some issues with the digital system would still need worked out.

“Whenever [public safety] keys up the radio, we want it to work," said Howard County 911 Emergency Communications director Gary Bates. "We’ve had thousands and thousands of transmissions – just like we’ve had thousands of 911 phone calls - and luckily it hasn’t been a serious situation but we’re getting better every day I think, it’s just going to take time.”

The radio system is used by more than 1,500 people, which includes personnel with ten volunteer fire departments in the county, the Kokomo Fire Department, four police agencies, Kokomo's bus system, highway departments, and other departments too.

Earlier this month, the Kokomo Fire Department had a problem using its radios while battling a fire in town. Dispatchers were not able to hear from firefighters which was only discovered after a fire official used his cellphone to find out what was wrong.

"The incident commander called dispatch on the phone and said, 'can you hear me on the radio,' and they said, no," Bates said.

The 911 director said firefighters got out of the house, noticed their radios said, "out of area," and switched to the county's back-up system. From there, firefighters returned to the house.

Bates said the issue stemmed from a connection with the microwave links the county uses for the radio system. When the system has a problem, the county radio system moves to a state network, which worked for firefighters during that fire.

“We were really excited that feature worked but hearing that they couldn’t communicate for a period of time is never a good thing," said Howard County commissioner, Republican Paul Wyman.

The situation was a big enough of an issue that technicians from EF Johnson Technologies, which the county used as the vendor for the radio system, had to perform further tests on the equipment.

Those tests found even more interference on the radio channels.

Bates said the system has been interference-free since Saturday.

“The external interference we have been experiencing, believe it or not, we experienced that on our old system," said Wyman.

A P25 radio system is a standard for communication networks for public safety and government agencies. The standard is required for an agency looking to upgrade its radio system with the help of federal government funding.

The system also allows for local agencies to talk to state and federal agencies.