Wednesday there were crews installing new equipment at antenna locations on Short Mountain and Town Knob.
The plan was to begin working on Bays Mountain Thursday, and hopefully have the system ready to go “hot” Monday.
Hawkins County has had problems with its emergency radio system for years.
It became a political issue in June of 2014, however, when officers chased an armed suspect into a secluded area in the Goshen Valley community and were out of radio contact with Hawkins County Central Dispatch for 11 minutes.
The Hawkins County Commission subsequently authorized a $340,000 radio system upgrade which was paid mostly from the Tennessee Valley Authority construction impact dollars which were provided after the new power plant was installed near Rogersville.
For years Hawkins County’s emergency services have been on an analogue system with three different repeater sights — Clinch Mountain to the west, Town Knob in the center, and Bays Mountain to the east.
Depending on their location and officer, firefighter, or EMS responder had to switch channels their radio to receive service from one of those three repeaters.
Aside from the numerous dead spots in the system where officers would be totally without communications, there was also an issue with limited range of handheld radios.
Another problem was the inability of officers on one end of the county to communicate with officers on the other end of the county, requiring communications had to be relayed by Central Dispatch.
Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency director Gary Murrell said this new system will solve a lot of the problems, but it’s not a 100 percent cure.
“To be honest there may still be dead spots after this upgrade is completed,” Murrell said. “What we’re doing now is not going to give us 100 percent coverage, but it’s going to improve what we’ve got, and then this will open us up to other potential improvement down the road. But, we’ve got to start somewhere.”
The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office had the biggest problem because it covers the county as a whole.
“With all the mountain and hollows here in Hawkins County I don’t know if we could ever have 100 percent radio coverage,” Lawson said. “From what I’ve learned about this new system it’s going to be a great improvement. Radio communications are extremely important to my officers and can mean the difference between life and death.”
Lawson added, “When officers are out on domestic calls, they can’t call for additional help or EMS assistance because portable radios don’t work inside houses or in mountainous or wooded areas. I’m hoping for a lot of improvement on our portable radios.”
The Church Hill and Mount Carmel police department have a number of dead spots in their city limits as well.
CHPD Chief Mark Johnson noted that one of his officers was providing backup to the county when they chased the armed suspect into a radio dead zone in June of 2014.
“Luckily there were two officers there, but still you can’t communicate with anybody who is trying to check on you, you can’t request additional backup, you can’t do anything,” Johnson said.
“We have some dead spots, especially around North Central where you can be talking on the phone and your phone will go dead, and the same thing with police radios. This should help the entire county and improve officer safety all through the county.”
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office recently upgraded to a digital radio system which was substantially more expensive than what Hawkins County was able to afford.
Although the digital system is preferable, it was cost prohibitive in Hawkins County because it would have required every police, fire and EMS service to countywide to replace all of its radio equipment.
The Clinch Mountain location is being moved to Short Mountain because it allowed a clear line of site without obstruction to the two other locations.
On Thursday three crews were at each of the three locations talking to each other and lining up the microwaves to shoot straight to each other.
Short Mountain and Bays Mountain will be the two primary transmit/receive sites, and town Knob will be a receive-only site.
“This system ties it all in to one channel,” Murrell said. “Law enforcement will key up their radio, and it will open up every repeater that we’ve got in the county. It’s goes countywide. Everybody is going to be able to hear what they say on the upper end, on the lower end, and vice versa.”
He added, “Right now is somebody in Church Hill is talking, somebody else in Mooresburg can’t hear it. The new system is going to take care of that. This might not make everybody happy, but they’ll be better satisfied.”