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For a price, Hall County to let others use high-tech communications system
Hall County Fire Services Lt. Bobby Reed demonstrates how the fire service uses a portable radio. Hall County has talked about allowing other counties to use its emergency radio frequencies. - photo by Tom Reed

Hall County has been so satisfied with its improved emergency communications that it soon will offer surrounding areas the opportunity join the 800 MHz radio system.

One small catch: Other governments will have to provide their own equipment and help pay maintenance costs, said Marty Nix, director of Hall County’s 911 center.

"It’s a win-win for everyone," Nix said. "The more people you have involved in a system like this, the less it costs for everyone involved."

Nix said he will meet with representatives from some of the surrounding counties in September to present information and let them know the option of joining the system is available.

If other municipalities decide to use the radio system, Hall County will gain both a larger service area and revenue, Nix said.

Other counties will pay fees to use the radio service, lowering the amount Hall County will have to pay to keep up with maintenance.

Though no rate has been set, Nix said the size of the county will be taken into consideration when determining how much to charge.

"It will be on a county-by-county basis," Nix said.

The incentive for other counties to join would be the convenience and savings of sharing a system.

"It would be a savings to them because we already have the infrastructure in place to help support that system," Nix said.

And because the infrastructure is in place, Hall County’s system can accommodate many channels without causing congestion, Nix said.

"We bought extra capacity in the system for growth," said Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell. "It’s very upgradable."

Many counties still use the older, less reliable VHS radio technology, so switching to an 800 MHz system would let them communicate more easily.

"It provides a greater platform for interoperability," Nix said. "Hopefully grant monies will become available to the smaller counties so they can purchase some of the equipment to migrate toward an 800 MHz system trunk system, which is a better radio system. And it’s better technology and a more reliable system than a conventional VHS system."

Voters approved the $16 million 800 MHz digital system in a 2004 sales tax referendum. Hall County started using the technology in March 2007. Several tower sites throughout the county transmit and receive communication, and county employees use more than 1,000 radios.

"The voters voted to improve our emergency communication services because it was old technology and was not working. It had poor coverage," Nix said.

Kimbrell said many other Georgia municipalities are using the 800 MHz system.

"It’s not unique to us. They’re all over," Kimbrell said. "Metro Atlanta has this type of equipment, Gwinnett, Forsyth, the Savannah area are all on the ... system."