BEND, OR -- Bend’s Police Chief says the county is getting closer to fixing ongoing problems with the radio system used by first responders, which has been plagued with problems since last year’s digital conversion.
Chief Jim Porter believes the problem started when the county contracted for a digital system rated 3.0, on a scale of one to five. Porter tells KBND News he recently learned that's not strong enough for radios carried by police and fire personnel, "And they’re also degraded by the fact the officer wears it on his hip. So, his body sometimes will shield the antenna, as opposed to an antenna on top of a vehicle. A 3.0 system, as I understand it, will function very well for those higher output radios, such as in a vehicle."
He says his department has wasted time and money trying to fix problems with those portable radios, when the issue was the overall system strength, "The 911 staff has had us reprogram our portable radios numerous times to try and get us where we need to be. When, in fact, some of the definitions of a 3.0 system says, ‘you will have to repeat your calls, if you’re using a portable'." Porter says if he’d known that a year ago, he would’ve raised concerns before the contract was signed, "It’s a non-starter, if you will; we can’t. Us and fireman do not have the ability, us and paramedics do not have the ability to repeat our calls in the situations we deal with."
Porter is a member of the E-Board that helped develop recommendations for the new radio system, and says he doesn’t know why the county chose to purchase a lower-grade system, "I really wasn’t there at that final stage. I was on the E-board and we recommended, out of the Sparling Report, a system that was 3.4 or better."
Given all the issues, Porter is encouraged by planned upgrades, "County Commissioners are hiring somebody
, hopefully by the end of this week, to help us with that – a technician. And we can get this system where it needs to be, because all the industry standards say ‘inside city urban areas require stronger signal strength.’ So you have to be at that 3.4 or better."
Deschutes County Administrator Tom Anderson tells KBND News there is money in the 911 budget to reach the 3.4 goal. He says the 3.0 contract was based on ODOT's agreement with Harris Radio, since the county was piggy-backing on the state system. But, he believes the intention from the beginning was to upgrade to 3.4 for the urban areas of Bend and Redmond.