WV Emergency Communication Trunk and Broadband Project
It was Friday morning May 11, 2012 about 8:50 AM and representatives from Gilmer County Fire Department, Gilmer County PSD, Gilmer County Ambulance Service, Lewis/Gilmer E-911, Gilmer County Sheriff Department, Regional Representative of West Virginia Homeland Security, GSC Public Safety, Gilmer County Commission, Gilmer County Administrator, and The Gilmer County Clerk, and several interested individuals were waiting at the Court house for a meeting when the Gilmer County Office of Emergency Services Director Suzie Kirkpatrick informed everyone that the meeting would start after 9:00 AM because Mr. Joe Gonzalez, the Director of the Medical Communication Division of WV Homeland Security was stuck in traffic due to an accident on I-79. Of course that worked out well for the County Commission President since he has a habit of being late for the meetings all the time which was the case here again.
Mr. Gonzalez is also the project coordinator for the state broadband project, and was to speak about it at this meeting.
About 2 ½ years ago a resolution was passed by the state of WV to have a good communication system in the state.
A study was done on the status of emergency communication and broadband system statewide to include federal, state, and local.
As a result of the study and lack of a reliable communication system, funds were allotted to come up with a system to improve the communication.
The funding for the 2 ½ year project is $125 million, of which $33 million is for microwave system and the rest for the Frontier Communication to build 900 miles of fiber to the areas that normally could not get it.
The broadband portion of the project is to build the infrastructure to allow the service to be used by those who are willing to pay for it.
The study for our area resulted in building the microwave system from Roanoke, WV in Lewis County to Glenville, WV in Gilmer County, and then to Five Forks, WV in Calhoun County to split to Pennsboro, WV in Richie County and Spencer, WV in Roane County, connecting to Kenna, WV and then to Charleston, WV.
Gilmer County already has the tower site on Nutter Run and the state has already taken care of all the right-of-ways.
Two years was available to build the tower system in Gilmer County and one year has already passed.
As part of this statewide communication system a tower has to be built in the Snowshoe area as well which, according to Mr. Gonzalez, has taken longer than anticipated due to the Greenbank quiet zone.
Every communication site will have a 400 foot tower weighing 60 tons, a 10x20 foot precast building, a 20 KW propane fired generator, and 2 redundant heating and cooling systems.
Currently, Gilmer County Emergency Services uses the 190 foot tower at the Gilmer site. The tower has to be removed to erect the new tower. As a result, the county emergency services have to move their communication devices to a temporary location.
The Gilmer County PSD has agreed to let other agencies in the county use the water tank site at FCI-Gilmer.
Once the new tower is completed, all the agencies can use the statewide trunk system for their communications. However, Mr. Gonzalez recommended all the agencies keep their system as backup to the statewide system so they can be used in case of emergencies. Doing so allows them to use the local system as well as the trunk. He suggested this would be a good method of redundancy.
Using the statewide trunk, all the agencies can communicate with each other or they can use one of 250 channels for local communication.
All communications on the trunk are digitally recorded and the recording and use of it are fully confidential and confirms with HIPPA rules.
The anticipated date for starting to use the system is June 15, 2012.
This communication project is a partnership between the county and the state.
There is absolutely no cost to county taxpayers for this project as the WV Division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security pays for the project.
The state will assume the cost of the electric at the site which is a saving since currently county pays for the electricity.
The state also puts up all the antennas and feed-lines and takes care of the maintenance of the site as well as the road.
The site will be under full security with cameras.
County agencies are still responsible to maintain their local radios and repeaters.
Mr. Gonzalez stated it will take about one month to complete the construction.
Suzie Kirkpatrick the GCOES Director thanked Mr. William Stalnaker from Gilmer County PSD for the use of their site during the construction period.
Gonzalez noted that Amateur Radio (Ham Radio) will be part of this project and Hams can put their repeater on these towers since they are of great help during the time of emergencies.
He made sure everyone knows that no one is allowed to climb the tower except the state.
The tower can be used by all public emergency services and it can be rented to commercial customers upon approval so they won’t interfere with emergency services. In this case the customer is charged for the use of the tower and the revenue is shared 90/10 by the state and the county.
The statewide communication system is designed to be fully functional with all mobile systems and is not guaranteed to work with portable radios at all locations.
Finally, although the Gilmer County tower construction started later than planned due to the fact it took 9 months for West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection agency to check the impact of the communication on bird migration and such, it is still a 2-year project and will be completed on time.