By Kevin Edwards
BC Staff Writer
Bolivar County E-911 Director Lisa Regan spoke to the Bolivar County Board of Supervisors about streamlining communication methods across emergency services.
Ragan said most of the state, including the Bolivar County Sheriff’s Department and the Emergency Management Agency, have switched to the Mississippi Wireless Information Network radio system, an upgrade from previously used 800 MHz systems and others.
Parts of the county, including the Bolivar County Volunteer Fire Department, use an older frequency and equipment that can no longer be addressed with repairs if they malfunction.
“Now we’re at a point to where we have moved to the MSWIN system and some of the municipalities and other departments do not have a way to communicate with the new system,” Ragan said. “The whole point of this is to get rid of the 800 system and move to the MSWIN system.”
She said serious issues could arise if all services aren’t on the same page.
“Of course, that’s a cost to the county, more money, and also the 800 system we no longer have a maintenance contract on,” Ragan said. “If something happens, it crashes, some of these municipalities or departments are going to lose communications with the sheriff’s department or throughout the county. It’s a very serious situation.
“For emergency personnel, if we have a major disaster, if the 800 system goes down, we have a tornado that comes through, they have no communications throughout the county. They won’t be able to communicate in case of an emergency.”
Ragan said she is currently in the process of identifying, which sectors of the county are in need of new radio systems.
There are already 189 radios in use that are good within the MSWIN system.
Purchasing additional radios, Ragan said, would cost an estimated $1,200 per radio.
“There’s no need in us operating three radio systems throughout this county,” said Ragan, who added she would like to see the entire county on the MSWIN system within a year.
Supervisor Donny Whitten asked to delay immediate commitment to radio replacement.
“It puzzles me as to why we’re not on the same wavelength already and it also puzzles me as to whose authority it is to purchase radios for municipalities,” said Whitten.
Whitten asked EMA Director Michael Lamb for his take on the situation.
“I agree with (Ragan) 100 percent,” Lamb said. “We do have difficulties talking throughout the county on the current radio system right now with the fire department, which I am a member of the fire department as well. It’s on the 800 VHF. If we get north of Merigold, we have hardly no communications, so of course the further you go north, those guys can’t hardly talk. It’s basically you have to get on the phone and talk back and forth to dispatchers.
“Again, over here on the riverside, same thing. Fire department in Benoit, Scott, they have no radio communications as well with the current radios.
“If there’s money, we need to update and move to MSWIN because like (Ragan) was speaking, the current system that most everyone is left on now, if it breaks down, there’s no parts to replace it. When it goes down, these other municipalities such as Rosedale, Shelby, Mound Bayou, they’re going to have no communications.”
County Administrator Will Hooker clarified that after the shooting at Delta State University in 2015, the county moved to the MSWIN system for most emergency responders.
“Right now, if the city of Cleveland were to have another shooting, storm or anything, we could flip over and be able to talk with Cleveland PD,” said Lamb.
Lamb and Sheriff Kelvin Williams said that over time, older radios were marked as surplus inventory and transferred to municipalities that need them.
“These (MSWIN) radios, it’s going to be a lot more expensive radio,” Lamb said. “The purpose of taking care of them versus these other ones we gave to these municipalities are like $100 radio. These are $1,200 plus.”
Whitten asked Lamb and Williams to work with Ragan on how many radios are needed and what the cost would be.
He maintained that record keeping and responsibility of maintenance are of the highest priority.
“We’d like to know who’s going to get what and who’s going to be responsible for what and are they going to be held responsible,” Whitten said. “I can’t tell you how many times that radios have been given to municipalities and various fire department units in this county and in six weeks they’re gone, and nobody knows where they are. That’s got to stop.”