Weak radio coverage becomes big problem in Ford County

By Pilar Pedraza, ppedraza@kwch.com
Published On: Dec 04 2013 08:48:19 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 05 2013 06:34:43 AM CST
FORD COUNTY, Kan. -

Two-way radios  first responders use them to communicate.

Except there are holes in radio coverage in Ford County.

"It involves the EMS, the Sheriff's Department ... and we're finding areas where we have no signals," said Dan Boatright of Ford County Roads and Brides. "... It's a very, very serious concern."

The problem started with a federal order to narrow the bandwidth the county uses.

"They cut our coverage by about a third," said Ford County administrator Edward Elam. "Our first responders aren't responding as quickly as we need them. so we have to go to our back up system. That ties up our dispatchers."

The problem could be getting worse. Elam is hearing the FCC wants to narrow band again.

"If we narrow band again, we'll lose two thirds of our existing coverage," Elam said.

Which is why the county is looking at some changes.

"Mainly because the state has a system that's in our area that we can tie onto," Elam said.

But the state has only one tower in Ford County, still leaving holds. So they're using a mobile tower to figure out the best place to locate a new, secondary tower in the county.

"So what we want to test is those areas, elevators, basements … that has that communication need," Elam said. "So the only way we can do that actually is to take a radio and see if it'll work."

From snow plows to fire trucks to squad cars, they all have these two way systems installed in them so they can communicate. But they're probably going to have to switch them out for handheld radios, at no small cost to the county. Elam estimates it would cost between $1.25 and $1.5 million.

But despite the heavy price tag, the county can't ignore the problem.