Sarasota County and Longboat commissioners get an update this week on the project that began in 2012
Sarasota and Manatee counties should see their new 800-MHz public safety communications system go live in August 2017, Sarasota County Emergency Services Director Rich Collins told the Sarasota County Commission and the Longboat Key Town Commission during the boards’ joint meeting on Oct. 5 in Sarasota.
The system will cover 1,300 square miles, “enabling seamless communication between [Sarasota County’s] 32 agencies and 4,800 radios and Manatee’s 35 agencies and 3,300 radios,” Collins added, including providing better coverage to the barrier islands, the area encompassing University Parkway, South Sarasota County and the Myakka community.
Sarasota County staff began working in the fall of 2012 to procure a new system after staff reported the increasing difficulty of finding replacement parts for its outdated equipment. Then-Sarasota County Fire Chief Mike Tobias explained to the county and Longboat commissioners during a joint meeting in September 2013 that the system had suffered two “major component failures” since November 2012. The primary goal of the new system, Tobias pointed out, is to enable emergency responders in Sarasota County to communicate with their Manatee counterparts, something the existing equipment does not allow.
The importance of interagency communications was underscored nationally during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when emergency responders with various New York City agencies were unable to talk with each other over the radio, staff has explained to the County Commission.
In May 2014, the County Commission unanimously approved an interlocal agreement with Manatee County that laid out the terms of the procurement process for the new system and ongoing operations after the equipment is installed, an Oct. 6, 2014 memo to the County Commission notes.
On June 2 of this year, the Sarasota County Commission approved a contract with Airbus DS Communications, based in Temecula, Calif. Sarasota County’s share of the cost will be about $13.5 million, Collins told the county and Longboat boards this week, with another $5.9 million going toward maintenance for the second through 12th year following installation.
The June 2 County Commission vote called for Sarasota County’s share of the expense not to exceed $19,474,301.
“They will do a system refresh of all our hardware right around Year 6 or so,” Collins pointed out on Oct. 5, referring to Airbus. The contract also calls for special assistance during situations when a natural disaster, such as a hurricane strike, is expected. Further, Airbus helped county staff achieve what Collins called “a major milestone” on Sept. 22: relocating the existing Motorola Inc. equipment to the new Emergency Operations Center on Cattlemen Road. “It was a great example of Airbus’ ability to get stuff done,” he added.
During their due diligence before recommending the County Commission approve the Airbus contract, Collins explained on Oct. 5, he and his staff visited Asheville, N.C., to see firsthand how an Airbus system works. “It performed flawlessly,” he added. All the partners using the equipment voiced enthusiasm about it, Collins said.
During the October 2014 joint meeting of the Sarasota County and Longboat commissioners, staff estimated the new regional system would be operational by mid-2016. However, Motorola — which also bid on the project — filed a protest after a county Procurement Department evaluation team last fall unanimously recommended Airbus as the “most responsive and responsible proposer,” a June 2, 2015, memo to the board explains. The county’s procurement official, Ted Coyman, denied the protest, but Motorola appealed to County Administrator Tom Harmer, the memo continues. After Harmer also denied the appeal, Motorola indicated it would not take its appeal to the County Commission.