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County emergency communication system expected to come online by fall

St. Charles County officials now hope to have an improved radio communications system for emergency providers up and running in several months.

Jennifer George, the county’s director of policy, said the county expects to phase in the operations of the system with individual police departments and providers starting in September.  The county has not yet announced a date when the process will begin, she said.

The county and its designer, Motorola Solutions, have designed a system that requires 12 radio towers, ranging in height from 250 feet to 450 feet. The system requires that the county enter into agreements with municipalities, fire departments and other emergency providers along with establishing an oversight board to advise on its operation.

The towers and new system are part of an effort throughout the St. Louis area to upgrade emergency communications for first responders as nationally mandated by the Federal Communications Commission.

The improvements will create a single, unified system for law enforcement, fire, ambulance and public works communications and would help eliminate the gaps in service from a patchwork of systems. The system will be tied into other counties in the metropolitan area including Jefferson and St. Louis counties.

The county is building the towers mostly on publicly owned land – including Youth Activity Park in Dardenne Prairie and the county’s Indian Camp Creek Park – to save taxpayers money. However, finding suitable tower locations hasn’t been easy because of technical requirements that they be precisely placed and close to dispatching locations. George said that while the county has opted to purchase the tower sites, the system remains within budget and is expected to cost $36 million.

Because the system required agreements with municipalities and emergency providers, some extra maintenance and other costs may be borne by those entities as part of the intergovernmental agreements reached with the county.

Along with picking up maintenance costs, local government jurisdictions also had to approve an ordinance designed to regulate buildings and development to prevent microwave transmission from dishes on the towers.

The last of the required agreements – establishing an advisory commission for the system – was contained in an ordinance approved by the county council at its June 30 meeting. An 11-member Radio Communications Policy Commission will advise the county on operations of the system.

The commission includes representatives from municipalities, fire departments, the county Sheriff’s Department and agencies, and the St. Charles County Ambulance District. The ordinance also establishes a “technical operations committee” to review and advise on operations and technical issues.

George said she expects the St. Charles County’s towers and its new system to be up and operational about that same time as Jefferson County, but before St. Louis County.

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