DaneCom to be taken offline to rule out cause of emergency radio issues
MADISON, Wis. — Parts of DaneCom will be taken offline at the beginning of the year to determine if the county’s new emergency communication system is causing emergency radio problems.
“We feel we can afford to shut that down for 30 days,” 911 Center Director John DeJung said. “Even though we don’t think that’s the cause of any of our problems, we’re shutting it down out of an abundance of caution. To make sure that’s eliminated as a potential cause.”
This past summer numerous problems started plaguing the radios some county police, fire and EMS workers use to communicate. Some officials have even said the situation is serious enough to put lives in jeopardy.
“It’s very frustrating, the whole process of hearing about the issues, and trying to track them down. Trying to eliminate those. It’s a slow process,” DeJung said. “But there is progress. In other words, when we become aware of an issue, we try to find that mole, and whack that mole and move on to the next issue.”
That includes the county taking other parts of DaneCom offline and adjusting other signal problems.
“For instance, just last week we heard about radio signals bleeding in from one channel to the other. We had three reports of those in the last couple of weeks, and in all three cases were able to whack all those three moles,” DeJung said. “At least this last week we have not heard of any new problems.”
But along with some first responders, County Supervisor Mike Willett wonders if the problems are really being fixed.
“Every time I ask, I’m told they’re fixed. If they’re fixed, why are we turning it (DaneCom) down? Why are we turning the system off?” Willett said. “What’s the progress now? We’ve thrown more money at it. What are we doing for the money? I should be able to tell you that. I can’t.”
The county has approved $3.5 million toward new towers and better DaneCom signal coverage for a system that is already online. However, with ongoing coverage concerns, first responders will still use the old, “legacy” emergency radio communication system for the next year.
“I believe the legacy system is fine for another year,” DeJung said. “We will continue to do the preventative maintenance, and the little preventative things, as we discover problems.”
“We are not being well-informed of problems. The report I have says work is basically proceeding on DaneCom,” Willett said. “We need to get dates. We need to figure out what we’re doing and do it. We need to make this stuff work, and do it now.”
DeJung made his DaneCom announcement during the first advisory meeting between the County Executive’s Office and first responders since the County Board of Supervisors took public safety communication control away from the former center board full of police, fire and EMS chiefs. While first responders had raised concerns over their voices being removed from the process, during Wednesday’s meeting their silence was deliberate.
“I think folks are trying to figure out how this would go. How this would operate. Who’s responsible for what,” said Assistant Madison Fire Chief Laura Laurenz, a former board member. “I think it’s a wait and see. We’ll see how things go. The governance had been in place for years, and this is a new day. So hopefully we’ll have some positive changes. And the changes will benefit the citizens of Dane County as well.”
But Supervisor Willett was more blunt.
“They feel like they’re not heard,” Willett said. “None of them would accept or make a nomination for them to become chair or vice chair. None of them stepped forward with saying when we have the next meeting. This committee has not scheduled another meeting. It doesn’t have a chair. It doesn’t have a vice chair. It feels to me like this is not a committee.”
DeJung said he is confident, despite criticism, the committee will eventually work and the legacy equipment is reliable. He urged first responders to continue reporting problems to the 911 center.
“The radio system, new or old, is one that’s going to continue to have problems,” DeJung said. “It’s just a fact of life. It’s just like taking care of a car. We’re going to have to continue to do those. And every once in a while when a problem pops up, that has to be repaired.”