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Campbell County Moves to Join Kenton, Boone in Radio Upgrade

Campbell County took the first step toward upgrading its public safety radios Wednesday, agreeing to join forces with Boone and Kenton counties to overhaul communication systems in Northern Kentucky.

The Campbell County Fiscal Court voted unanimously to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with Boone and Kenton, which is essentially a good faith agreement to work together on the project. The other two counties approved the MOU at their respective fiscal court meetings earlier this month.

This begins the long process of purchasing and implementing the system, which the three counties hope to launch simultaneously sometime in late 2018.

Campbell County’s current radio system was developed back in 1968, as evidenced by its outdated capabilities and technological limits.  

“We’ve played this string out as far as possible. Much of the rest of the world has converted to this 800 MHz system already, and we are dealing with end-of-life issues. Soon, these parts will no longer be made, and our equipment will be obsolete,” said Judge/Executive Steve Pendery.

Once the new radios are installed, different agencies will be able to communicate via radio, which they can’t now. Cincinnati and CVG airport workers will be looped into the system, too.

The new radios will also have several different stations for departments to communicate, replacing the old analog radios that limit speaking to one person at a time, similar to the party telephone in the mid-1900s, which required several families to share the same line.

Commissioner Tom Lampe commented that the communication difficulties of the current radio system make the county ill-prepared if something catastrophic, like a school shooting, were to occur.

“Personnel-wise, we are very prepared. But in terms of equipment, not at all,” said Keith Hammann of Fire District 1 in eastern Campbell County. “If I send someone into a building, we have no communication. Even in places like Wal-Mart in Alexandria. Once they get halfway in, we have no communication whatsoever.”

The new 800 MHZ radios should quell many of the dead zones where radios don’t work, as they are required to operate in at least 95 percent of the county. Hammann estimates his staff has about 78 percent coverage now.

“This is going to take us into the next realm. Our biggest problem right now is the age of our equipment. It’s all antiquated. When we’re on a fire scene or when the police are at a shooting, the county can’t hear them. With this, we can bring anyone on board,” said Hammann. “We thought we’d all be retired by the time this happened. I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and I thought I’d retire in 2018. But I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to make sure this thing works.”  

The cost of implementation is not yet known, but Pendery expects it will be similar to the cost of upgrading the same “antique” system used now, which Hammann described as “World War II technology.”

A Kenton County consultant estimated costs of $10 million if it were the only county to complete the project, but Campbell County Administrator Matthew Elberfeld said the cost should be lower with all three counties working together.

Newport City Manager Tom Fromme also presented several updates on economic development in Newport on Wednesday night.

Included in his presentation were plans for a SkyWheel on the floodwall between Mitchell’s Fish Market and the Newport Aquarium. Plans for the wheel are still in its infancy stage, but its cars will be climate-controlled and will seat up to six people. He hopes to have a more specific plan in place early next year.

Newport will also soon feature 9-foot-tall kiosks around the city that will emit a public Wi-Fi signal and feature charging ports. A launch ceremony for the kiosks will be held on October 3 at Northern Kentucky University, and Fromme says he hopes to have the first prototype installed by January.

Finally, construction on the parking lot at Newport Intermediate Schools is expected to begin sometime in November.

The Campbell County Fiscal Court will meet again on October 5 at the Campbell County Courthouse. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

Written by Alex Valentine, RCN contributor