Is DeKalb County in Need of Radio Communication System Upgrade?

November 24, 2023
By: Dwayne Page

From natural disasters to fires, auto crashes, law enforcement investigations, and search and rescue operations, emergency response efforts need reliable communication channels to coordinate their efforts when seconds count.

For years, the DeKalb County government has operated with a radio system made up of conventional analog technology to communicate between central dispatch and local law enforcement agencies, fire departments, EMS, and rescue squad. But over time, the system’s technology has become antiquated and more unreliable. According to Brad Mullinax, Director of the DeKalb Emergency Communications (E-911) District, the time has come for the county to invest in a new system upgrade.

During Tuesday night’s meeting of the whole, Mullinax urged the county commission to begin making plans to update the county’s mobile and fixed radio transmission technology and to join the Tennessee Advanced Communications Network (TACN) which provides first responders the ability to have additional coverage to talk on the radio with surrounding state communication towers during major events and disasters. In order to take advantage of the TACN network, Mullinax explained that all county responder radios will need to be replaced. Although necessary, its a move that may prove to be costly.

Mullinax has made some members of the commission aware of this concern in previous committee meetings, but this was the first time he brought it to the attention of the entire county commission.

“The DeKalb County Government current radio system consists of antiquated technology with many components in excess of 20 years old,” explained Mullinax “These components were provided to the county on some of the first homeland security grants awarded after the tragic 9/11 attacks in New York City. The system is made up of conventional Analog technology similar to some of the first cell phones. In addition to the older technology, the FCC in 2013 mandated that all public safety radio systems modify their transmissions to narrowband technology. This mandate severely weakened the radio coverage in our county. Shortly after the mandate, the 911 district and county government with assistance of some grant funding added tower locations to help mitigate the problem,” Mullinax continued. ”The equipment that the county currently owns has recently been declared “end-of-life” and can no longer be serviced. The 911 district and county have worked diligently to secure parts from local and online vendors and even individuals to make repairs in the past, but those parts have now become hard to locate. Most recently, the county suffered a catastrophic lightning strike at the main transmitter site that has essentially eliminated one of our tower sites from our network. As a result of the above mentioned, we experience problems many times with portable radio reception coverage for our emergency responders in remote areas of the county, especially in low areas around the lake. Additionally, large buildings such as schools, hospitals, businesses and some residences make it currently impossible to communicate inside the building. We estimate that only 40-50 percent of our county has adequate portable radio coverage,” Mullinax explained.

“We have secured estimates to upgrade our existing sites with the addition of new sites to improve our radio coverage and mitigate the problem of non-serviceable products, but the costs of those upgrades and replacing the radios required to use them are financially prohibitive. Therefore, we are recommending the county take advantage of the state of Tennessee’s Advanced Communication Network (TACN). We have met with officials from the state and they have indicated there are no costs associated with coming over to their system. The TACN system is very robust with multi-site redundant technology that has a track record of being up 99.9% of the time. The system is built to meet or exceed the APCO digital P25 standards and will meet the demands of our county well into the future. Additionally, the state is responsible for all repairs, maintenance, upgrades to the system. The P25 system is standard for most if not all of the state of Tennessee agencies and would allow the county responders to be fully interoperable with many local, state, and federal agencies. This would prove very important in the event of a mass casualty incident or natural disaster,” said Mullinax.

“We have been working on this project for close to a year by obtaining quotes, securing agreements with the state and attempting to obtain surplus radios from the state of TN and other sources. In order to take advantage of the TACN network, all county responder radios will need to be replaced. Based on field testing by our office, we estimate the addition of a vehicle repeater, replacing the responders mobile and portable radios will yield a vast improvement in radio coverage. The new technology will mitigate our current risks of public safety radio failure, improve responder safety and efficiency while also making our schools safer. The price associated varies based on radio manufacturer and model of radio. We are currently working with multiple vendors to secure the best prices for the technology that will meet the needs of our county. However, we do expect prices to continue to increase after the new year, so taking advantage of end of the year pricing will likely prove beneficial by at least reserving some of the equipment from vendors,” Mullinax concluded.

Currently, TACN supports 58,000 local, state, and federal government users statewide. In the last year alone, over 30 additional agencies have made the decision to join TACN to experience the statewide communications interoperability and the cost savings it delivers.

The county commission has not yet acted on Mullinax’s recommendations.

DeKalb October Jobless Rate at 4.6%

November 24, 2023
By: Dwayne Page

Unemployment rates in most Tennessee counties including DeKalb remained below 5% in October, according to newly released county data from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD).

DeKalb County’s October jobless rate was 4.6%, up from 4% in September and higher than the 3.7% unemployment rate recorded in October 2022.

The local labor force for October, 2023 was 8,174. A total of 7,801 were employed and 373 were without work.

Tennessee’s seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate in October was 3.3%. That’s just 0.2 of a percentage point above the all-time low jobless number of 3.1% which was last recorded in August.

Unlike the statewide unemployment rate, county unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted to account for different seasonal events that can impact employment.

Eighty-eight of Tennessee’s 95 counties recorded rates lower than 5% in October. The remaining seven counties had rates that were greater than 5% but lower than 10%.

Rates decreased in six counties across the state during the month. They held steady in 16 counties and increased in the remaining 73 counties.

For the second consecutive month, Moore and Sevier counties had Tennessee’s lowest unemployment rates. Moore County’s rate came in at 2.6%, which was unchanged from the previous month. Sevier County’s rate was 2.7%, which accounted for a slight increase of 0.1 of a percentage point from its September rate.

Perry County had Tennessee’s highest unemployment rate in October. Its new rate of 7.9% was 3.2 percentage points higher than its September rate. Warren County saw the second-highest rate for the month. Unemployment there increased by 3.5 percentage points from 4% to 7.5%.

As we head into the holiday season, Tennessee employers are searching for dependable employees to help with the increase in customers. Tennessee’s American Job Center Network can help match Tennesseans to new employment opportunities. An interactive locator map can guide job seekers to the center closest to them.

County to Distribute Opioid Settlement Funds

November 24, 2023
By: Dwayne Page

DeKalb and other county governments across the state will now be able to help their communities in the ongoing opioid crisis that has affected them in recent years with funds awarded the state from lawsuit settlements.

DeKalb County has received $119,163 in restricted funds and $99,470 in unrestricted money from a trust fund set up by the state for a total of $225,647.

All 95 Tennessee counties have received a share of more than $31.4 million in payments from the Tennessee Opioid Abatement Council, which began processing the direct payments from the Opioid Abatement Trust Fund to county governments earlier this year.

County Mayor Matt Adcock, during Tuesday’s committee meeting of the whole, informed the county commission that funds from DeKalb County’s allotment of money can be made available to eligible agencies in DeKalb County who have requested funding. During Monday night’s monthly meeting, the county commission will consider allocating a portion of $146,701 to the agencies who have made requests.

“Agencies in DeKalb County were asked to submit a request for how much funding from the county’s opioid settlement funding they wished to receive to support their programs,” said County Mayor Adcock. “All of these agencies have expressed what they would like to use the funds for and how much is needed to successfully bring to fruition or continuation of their programs. DeKalb County has received $119,163 of restricted opioid settlement funds that must meet the criteria of the Tennessee Opioid Abatement Council’s remediation list. Unrestricted funds of the opioid abatement settlement funding totals to an amount of $99,470. The total amount of restricted and unrestricted funding is $218,634”, said Adcock.

The agencies making funding requests and the amounts are as follows:
Sheriff’s Department’s DARE Program: $10,000
Youth and Family Resources Network (Spot Program) $22,440
DeKalb Prevention Coalition $54,261
Recovery Court $60,000
Total: $146,701

County leaders are able to select activities for these funds from a list approved by the Tennessee Opioid Abatement Council. Approved uses include a continuation of opioid use disorder treatment programs, medication assisted treatment, recovery supports, and prevention measures.

Tennessee’s Opioid Abatement Council was created by the Tennessee General Assembly in Public Chapter 491 to manage the disbursement of proceeds from lawsuits relating to opioids. The Council upholds the responsibility to ensure the disbursements of these funds go toward funding programs, strategies, expenditures, and other actions designed to prevent and address the misuse and abuse of opioid products and treat or mitigate opioid use or related disorders or other effects of the opioid epidemic.

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