E-radio antenna in western Hawkins was 'deaf' for six months

Jeff Bobo • Jan 30, 2018 at 9:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — If Hawkins County’s law enforcement and emergency responders have experienced communication problems in the western part of the county for the past six months, there’s a very good reason.

Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell told the Public Safety Committee at its Jan. 19 meeting that the receive-only Short Mountain antenna location has been “deaf” since late June.

The county’s previous emergency radio maintenance contractor went out of business, and the county recently contracted with AMK Services, which made its first evaluation of the Short Mountain antenna in early January.

What they discovered was that the previous maintenance company wasn’t doing its job.

“Everything on that end of the county, whether it was handheld, mobile, whatever, was not going through that (Short Mountain) site,” Murrell said. “It was coming back to Town Knob (near Rogersville). They (AMK) ran a system check (on Short Mountain) that showed it went down the latter part of June last year from either a severe power surge or a lightning strike.

“We’re working with the National Weather Service and our insurance company now to get that (paid for). It’s $2,779, and we're getting part of that back to get new parts.”

Murrell said the warning system that would have told him the Short Mountain antenna had been out of service since late June wasn’t installed by the previous contractor, but the new contractor has since installed the system.

“Now we’re hooked up, it’s being monitored and they’re going to add another monitor to it,” he added. “Instead of just coming to one person, it’s going to be heard over the radio. Certain tones mean it’s running on battery; certain tones mean it’s running on generator.”

The new contractor also evaluated the Town Knob structure and found a coax problem on the receive antenna, and Murrell was working with county Budget Director Nichole Buchanan to see if there’s funding in the EMA budget to make those repairs.

In 2014, Hawkins County spent $320,000 to help eliminate emergency radio dead spots, and although there was an improvement, the problem wasn’t completely solved.

The county’s emergency radio system has receivers and transmitters on Bays Mountain to the east and Town Knob above Rogersville in the center. But the antenna on Short Mountain to the west only receives.

A long-term plan is to install a transmitter at the Short Mountain location as well, and the current cost estimate for that is slightly more than $50,000.

Assistant EMA Director Jamie Miller told the Safety Committee in September that Hawkins County currently has about 60-70 percent radio coverage with its emergency radio system. The new transmitter on Short Mountain would improve that to about 90 percent, Miller said.

But the county also needs to start spending money on its individual radios as well. Murrell noted that about 150 handheld radios now being used in the field were purchased in 2005 and 2006 with Homeland Security grants, and they haven’t been serviced once since that time.

In other business Jan. 19, the Public Safety Committee:

* Heard a report from Murrell that he has started compiling information on all county buildings related to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) which must be submitted to the state by the end of the year. A plan to correct any ADA violations that are discovered must be completed by December of 2019.

Murrell noted that TOSHA safety inspections are also coming up for all county facilities to identify issues that could cause injuries.

* Heard a report from Murrell that the county’s new TEMA representative is assisting with the completion of a hazard mitigation plan, which also includes the municipalities. The plan is mandatory for Hawkins County to be eligible for federal disaster relief funds.

Once a plan has been drafted there will be a public hearing, after which TEMA and FEMA must approve the plan, followed by the county commission.

* Heard a report from Murrell that TEMA and the First Tennessee Development District are working on a debris management plan which involves property being set aside to temporarily dump debris during cleanup in the event of a major disaster such as a tornado or flood. The biggest problem is finding property that meets TDEC regulations.