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December 19, 2012NORTH FULTON, Ga. – The cities of North Fulton – Alpharetta, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek and Milton – are making plans to create their own radio emergency system, independent of the county. Many of the local councils voted Monday to move forward with the $16 million project.
The Fulton County emergency system is so outdated, it will not meet FCC requirements by 2014, said Alpharetta officials.
"The Fulton County system is 20 years old. There is poor signal and increased dead spots in the current system," said Carl Hall, Alpharetta's 911 manager. "Lots of Milton is not covered and portions of Alpharetta."
The question put before North Fulton's cities is whether to continue operating with the county and sign on to their new system, the details of which are not yet known, or go it alone with their own system.
"The [current] Fulton County system is horribly outdated," said Roswell Councilwoman Becky Wynn. "If we stay with Fulton County, our price will at least double."
Currently, public safety employees – this includes firefighters, police, EMTs and some park police – each have a personal radio and many of their vehicles have secondary radios. When they need to radio other officers or dispatch, they need to be 100 percent sure their calls will be heard.
"We have areas in Milton with less-than-desired coverage," said Milton City Manager Chris Lagerbloom. "When you start to get inside buildings, especially on the north side of town, you end up with spotty coverage."
Under the proposed plan, the cities would split the costs between them based on population, land area and number of radios needed per city. For instance, Roswell has 489 radios, or 31 percent of the total number, so they would pay 31 percent into the pot.
The total cost of the system is expected to be about $16 million. Managing the system would be each city manager.
To make the system work, the cities must put broadcasting equipment on about eight cell towers throughout the county. These towers were placed where they can get the most coverage with the fewest towers. Consultants said some existing towers will be able to be used – such as the one at the Verizon Amphitheatre – however many will have to be built. The final sites have to be agreed upon by the cities, but one will likely go at Birmingham Park in Milton, one at the Cox Road fire station in Roswell, one at Roswell Area Park and several south of the river.
The size will have to be determined; however Roswell's City Council was told Monday, Dec. 17 many towers could be as high as 400 feet tall. Lagerbloom said those numbers were out of date, and suggested a height closer to 200 feet.
The cities could potentially lease out space on towers they own as well to help defray costs.
Lagerbloom said there were still significant hurdles to clear, such as securing the bandwidth for the radios and confirming funding from all the cities.
Many advocates see this as yet another way to distance the cities of North Fulton from the county government downtown as well as creating a better, in-house system.
"We control our own destiny here," said Alpharetta City Manager Bob Regus. "This is a big system and it's our system. It's better."