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East Hawkins police, fire radios ‘could go down at any time’

Jeff Bobo • Jun 13, 2013 at 11:58 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County police and emergency services have three radio antenna towers to cover communications for the entire county, one of which is currently not functioning and the other two are only partly functional.

On Thursday, the Hawkins County Commission’s Public Safety Committee recommended an $8,600 emergency budget amendment to make repairs to the Bays Mountain antenna, which is currently operating at less than 50 percent capability.

The antenna tower at Town Knob above Rogersville is currently operating at 65 to 70 percent capability, and the Clinch Mountain antenna tower has been completely knocked out.

Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell told the Public Safety Committee on Thursday that the Clinch and Town Knob antenna systems were damaged by recent weather events, and will be repaired with insurance funds.

Problems with the Bays Mountain antenna system, installed in 2004, has more to do with “wear and tear” on a brand of antennas which — in retrospect — wasn’t the best choice.

Murrell told the committee he and a new radio tower maintenance contractor spent five hours at Bays Mountain on Wednesday analyzing the problem and determining a solution.

The Bays Mountain tower covers fire and police radio communications for all of east Hawkins County, including Mount Carmel, Church Hill, most of Surgoinsville and Carters Valley.

“Bays Mountain could go down at any time,” Murrell said. “We worked on it about five hours (Wednesday) to see if we could get it back up to working the way it should, and it’s not going to go back (to 100 percent). We’re probably less than 50 percent right now due to water in the antennas. This is not going to be an insurance claim. This is more of a wear-and-tear issue.”

Added Murrell: “It’s 140 feet in the air. It’s got water in the antennas, and it’s shorting the system out. If you go to the upper (east) end of the county you may be able to talk to Central (Dispatch), and you may not be able to talk to Central.”

The EMA’s new radio tower maintenance contractor is John Conley of Knoxville-based Central Communications.

Murrell said the original maintenance contractor received $7,000 annually but wasn’t required to perform preventative maintenance. That likely contributed to the antennas’ current condition, Murrell added.

Conley now has that contract and he will be performing preventative maintenance, as well as the needed repairs at all three antenna towers.

On Wednesday Conley joined Murrell at the Bays Mountain antennas, conducted an assessment, and determined that it would cost about $8,600 to get them back to 100 percent.

“You’ve got a problem that’s been going on at least the past couple of years and getting progressively worse,” Conley told the committee. “The antennas that you chose (for Bays Mountain in 2004) — I wouldn’t say that we wouldn’t have chosen those at the time, but we don’t use that company any longer because of the problems with water. They can’t be salvaged.”

The committee agreed to ask the full commission to place an emergency $8,600 budget amendment on the agenda for the June 24 commission meeting as an out-of-order resolution.

One vote from a commissioner can block an out-of-order resolution from being added to the agenda, but committee chairman Bob Palmer said he believes all 21 commissioners will realize this is an emergency.

“It bothers me to think that — the sheriff’s office in particular — could be in a situation in need of backup and their radios would not work,” Palmer said. “If they need backup and they’re pinned down, what are they going to do? Sit there until somebody misses them and comes looking for them? Are they going to sit there until they’re overpowered?

“Personally I think this should be acted on quickly. ...We have the money and we need to do whatever it takes to put that Bays Mountain tower in A-1 condition,” he added. “I’m hoping 21 commissioners are sensible enough to realize the importance of what we’re doing, and not one will step up and say no.”

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