911 system fails, police communicate via cell phones


On Friday, Oct. 28 Macon first responders radio system went down, allotting for several breaks without proper communication to emergency servicemen. Civilians were still able to make calls to the 911 emergency lines.
According to Jami Gaudet, Public Information Officer for Macon Police, at 2:45 p.m. the radio supervisor reported that the system was down for six minutes. At 3:30 p.m. the supervisor reported another failure. Fire radio was able to transmit via walkie-talkies while the Macon Police Department was unable to do so.
Macon Police Chief, Mike Burns, spoke to the Macon Telegraph of the incident. “All of our dispatchers were using cell phones,” said Burns. “The IT department hopped on it, but they can no longer get parts for it. We don’t know how much longer it will hold up. … My main fear is that we will have an officer (on a call), and he’ll have no way to call for help. I don’t want any of my officers to get hurt because we can’t communicate with them,” added Burns.
Clay Murphey, Director of External Affairs for the Mayor’s office, said the incident could happen again. The system was purchased over 10 years ago and has had multiple outages besides its most recent shut down.
“The ability for them to communicate together is critical. They need to be able to talk to each other,” said Brumley.
A complete failure occurred on Tuesday, October 25 at 2:20 p.m. The collapse affected MPD, the Bibb Sheriff’s Office (BSO), Macon-Bibb Fire Department (MBFD) and ambulance services. This caused Emergency 911 operators to work solely off portable radios for all calls city and countywide.
“It’s just old and getting parts for it is hard,” said Murphey of the system. The present system does not meet federal guidelines with concerns to inter-operability with other agencies.
A change from the current system to the new 800 MHz radio would solve the disruptions however the money needed to purchase is hefty, a required $8 million to upgrade.
Macon representatives are slowly churning the solution. Voters passed a special purpose local options sales task, known as SPLOST, on Nov. 8. Over 20,000 votes were cast and of those an overwhelming 72 percent were in favor of the tax.
Starting April 1 of next year, the SPLOST referendum will increase sales tax from six percent to seven percent. During the next six years, the tax is estimated to generate $190 million.
The tax will go towards a variety of improvements for public safety, recreation and infrastructure, road repairs and several other initiatives. In addition there is a need for three new fire stations, two in the county and one in the city, which could cost $12 million. The stations should help with the city and country’s insurance rates. Overall approximately $45 million will be contributed to public safety.
If proposed and passed the radio system wont be the only upgrade for police. New patrol with computers and laptops will be provided as well as in-car cameras and non-lethal enforcement devices.
SPLOST is a way for the needs of public safety services to be met without the need for bonds and property taxes.
“It allows us to move into the 21st century,” said Brumley of the necessary improvements.