City, county to discuss aging radio communications system

Published 11:12 am Friday, October 26, 2012

The thought of a possible lawsuit caused the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen to spend almost an hour in executive session Thursday to discuss the city/county radio communications system.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, Mayor Paul Winfield, fire Chief Charles Atkins, police Chief Walter Armstrong, IT Department Director Billy Gordon and specialist Bill Ford discussed the system during the session. South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman was ill and did not attend the meeting.

After the meeting, Gordon and Ford referred all questions about the radio situation to Winfield.

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Mayfield requested the closed session because, he said after the meeting, he was concerned the city could be sued if the aging communications system malfunctioned, resulting in tragedy.

“If something like that happened, someone could sue our pants off,” he said. “We need to have several discussions on this to find out how we can upgrade our system.”

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Warren County Board of Supervisors will meet on the third floor of the Warren County Courthouse at 1:30 p.m. Monday to discuss the situation.

The meeting was called by city officials, Board of Supervisors President Bill Lauderdale said.

Vicksburg and Warren County share a central 911 dispatching center that is funded primarily by monthly surcharges on residential and business telephone bills and supplements from the city and the county.

It is overseen by a commission created in 1989 to administer centralized dispatching of emergency personnel. It is made up of city and county department heads and elected officials.

Winfield said much of the equipment at the center is old, and might be obsolete.

“Most of that equipment was installed in 1993,” he said. “Some of it needs to be replaced, and some will have to be upgraded.”

He said the city recently received a notice from Motorola, which has a contract to maintain the system, that it soon will be unable to maintain or repair the equipment because parts won’t be available.

“This is something that’s been going on for a good while,” Lauderdale said. “Motorola periodically comes in and tells us they’re not going to be able to support or maintain our equipment and it has to be upgraded. It’s the technology. As soon as you get something, it soon becomes obsolete.”

Winfield said the city and county need to consider going to the statewide communications system, which he said is more efficient and would allow local emergency departments to communicate with state units. He said the cost of making the switch is estimated at $5 million to $7 million.

“Our emergency radio system is something we’re going to have to seriously look at and find a way to fix,” Winfield said. “We could have a serious problem if one of those radios breaks down.”