Const. Renee Cowell with the Chatham-Kent Police Service in her cruiser. (Photo by Greg Higgins)Const. Renee Cowell with the Chatham-Kent Police Service in her cruiser. (Photo by Greg Higgins)

CK needs to replace outdated public safety radio network

Chatham-Kent emergency responders are looking to replace their Radio Communications Network and will be asking council to approve the $11 million system replacement.

Chatham-Kent councillors will be considering the request at a meeting on Tuesday night.

A report going before council reads the public safety radio communications equipment is over 25 years old and needs to be replaced because it's at the end of its service life.

"Reliance on radios and the usage of radios has created a need to review the current radio environment including both end user hardware and the radio network infrastructure," read the report. "Most critically, is the communications failures experienced by both Fire and Emergency Services and Chatham-Kent Police Services on many occasions, posing a significant risk issue for both our front-line responders as well as the citizens of Chatham-Kent."

CK police and fire officials said used radio equipment was bought in 2018 as an interim measure.

"The current network infrastructure has deficiencies that need to be corrected to close gaps in network availability for its first-responder users," said officials. "Chatham-Kent Fire and Emergency Services, Police Services, and Public Works rely on a radio system to support critical communications. A radio system that provides complete coverage of Chatham-Kent and is functional across all emergency services and Public Works is essential to effective response and service delivery."

The municipality currently owns the user radio equipment in municipal vehicles and carried by personnel, while Thames Communications owns and operates the radio network. The operating agreement with Thames Communications expires September 30, 2024, and can be renewed annually.

Two consultants have recommended that actions should be taken immediately to start addressing the problems, emphasizing several times that the existing system does not meet the critical emergency communications needs of police, fire, and public works and the situation with the current managed radio system is "serious."

The Emergency Communications Governance Committee is recommending that the municipality purchase a Public Safety Radio Network consisting of municipally owned infrastructure with operation conducted through a managed service provider, saying municipally owned with a managed service is the optimal option that balances the need for control of critical infrastructure and the specialized expertise to operate the system.

"Due to the critical nature of the public safety radio infrastructure, it is recommended that the municipality should be the owner of the radio infrastructure and make further investments in additional radio towers, core infrastructure, and end user radio equipment," said the committee. "These investments are needed to ensure proper coverage and capabilities of the radio system to meet the needs of emergency services while positioning ourselves for future opportunities in the Public Safety. In some cases, radio tower space may need to be leased from existing tower owners (i.e., Cell Phone or AM/FM Radio providers)."

The estimated $11 million price tag would be phased-in from 2024 and 2028. Administration plans to fund the capital cost from the recommended 1.5 per cent Asset Management Plan tax increase recommended in the upcoming 2024-2027 budget, noting it will impact the spending power available for other infrastructure projects.

Staff also said there may be an operational increase to be determined at the end of the process that will be updated in 2025 as part of the 2024-2027 multi-year budget process.

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