Towers boost radio communications for first responders

Radio communication among Madison County’s law enforcement and emergency responders recently got a boost.

For years, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office has operated with one radio tower centrally located in London. The Sheriff’s Office answers all of the county’s 911 calls, with the exception of those within London’s city limits, and dispatches all of the county’s EMS and fire departments, except the Tri-County Fire District in Mount Sterling. The City of London has its own tower for 911 calls.

The Sheriff’s Office has had trouble with transmission and reception of radio signals in the northern and southern parts of the county due to the tower’s distance from those areas.

Those troubles, which Sheriff James P. Sabin says date back at least 27 years to when he patrolled the roads, greatly decreased last month when two additional towers became operational.

Using Homeland Security funds administered by the Madison County Emergency Management Agency, the Sheriff’s Office installed repeater systems on existing cellular towers south of Plain City near Jonathan Alder High School and at I-71 and Route 323 in southern Madison County.

"Since mid-October, we have seen substantial improvement in the abilities and quality of communications for our first responders," Sabin said.

That includes a decrease in the number of dead spots—areas where radios simply don’t work because other radio transmitting devices (like cell phones) and new buildings interfere with or block the Sheriff’s Office signals.

The total cost of the tower project was $87,000, $60,000 of which came from Homeland Security funding. The money covered the purchase of the repeater systems, installation, and enclosures for the equipment at the towers.

The project began two years ago under the advisement of the Emergency Management Agency’s county advisory committee. The group is made up of representatives from all of the county’s law enforcement and emergency response agencies.

"I’m proud that in Madison County we have seen a team effort that focuses on projects that are countywide and benefit a variety of disciplines," said EMA Director Krista Slanker. "We’re in line with state initiatives. Their No. 1 priority is interoperable communications—being able to communicate across disciplines and across county lines."

To make the additional towers operable, the Sheriff’s Office had to obtain additional frequencies through the Federal Communications Commission, make licensing changes, obtain permits from the cellular tower owners, evaluate the structures, and, finally, install the repeaters.

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