DEFOREST, Wis. - DeForest Police chief Robert Henze has spent the last month testing the new technology that's set to be fully implemented by the end of the summer.
"We knew up front, right off the bat, that penetration coverage in buildings was either not going to be there or very poor," Henze said.
Henze went through his own police station and learned the walls are too thick for DaneCom signals to penetrate much of the building.
In addition, Henze and his officers have tried the radios out in the district's schools. He said in three of the four schools, coverage and penetration was "extremely poor" with the portable radios. Henze added there's no sign that anything will be improved as the county continues with implementing DaneCom.
"Bottom line, its public safety for the entire community, and what needs to be done needs to be," Henze said.
The new system was put in place to provide Dane County with interoperable communications. In other words, the DaneCom system allows fire, EMS, police, and all other first responders to talk on the same channels and communicate in emergencies.
"Communication is crucial," Henze said. "You look at any major dynamic event, the first thing that's scrutinized is communication, and you'd think by now we would have that down."
The $18 million DaneCom network broke ground in 2012 (http://stoughton.channel3000.com/news/news/72822-new-dane-county-emergency-communication-network-breaks-ground). At the time, Dane County executive Joe Parisi said rural areas should expect expanded coverage.
Henze pointed out the strength of his radio signals was cut in half with the change.
Sharon Carrigan, now the chair of the county board of supervisors, chaired the original DaneCom governing board. She said communities knew what they were buying into when the system was chosen, including any potential problematic areas with coverage.
"I think everybody knew what it meant when we were signing up for it," Carrigan said, "but also it's looking at the specifics in the community of what that means for certain buildings in the community."
Going with a more affordable option for a communications system was a decision approved by 55 of the 59 municipalities (http://www.channel3000.com/news/Dane-Co-Moves-Forward-With-Emergency-Communications-System/10371780).
"Every community can make the decision if they want to add pieces to the system and if they want to add some repeaters or towers that will make the system stronger for their community," Carrigan said.
Henze said he was made aware of what the changes would do to coverage, but he said there was no way to properly plan until he could actually test the system's penetration around DeForest.
Henze is looking into other options, including use of a tower in Sun Prairie and in-car repeaters, which would act as mobile "hot spots" for coverage and help the radio signal push through troublesome walls.
With the DaneCom system set to go online in August, Henze doesn't think other options will be ready and paid for in time.
"They're just options, and I'm not quite sure if they're really going to work," Henze said.
Carrigan and the Dane County executive's office mentioned an analog channel, already paid for through DaneCom investments. That signal can serve as a back-up, providing more strength for reaching into the building.
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