Emergency dispatch operations encounter static
Problems with a mountaintop radio repeater have raised concerns about the regional district’s planned $1.6-million upgrade of its emergency dispatch equipment.
A key part of the upgrade recommended last year to the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen by a consultant is a new radio repeater on Okanagan Mountain similar to the one on Mount Kobau, which lost power over the Christmas break due in part to heavy snowfall that knocked down power lines.
The outage, which has been remedied through the use of generators, forced some fire departments in the region to turn to backup systems to communicate with dispatchers in Kelowna.
RDOS Director Tom Siddon said he’s heard from constituents who have suggested fixed lines run to the fire halls, rather than new radio links, might be less susceptible to the whims of nature and avoid a repeat of what happened at Mount Kobau.
“The essence of the intervention I’ve received is that it is not wise to put another mountain tower up on Okanagan Mountain, which you can’t get to,” Siddon, the director for Kaleden-Okanagan Falls, said at a board meeting last week.
“We’d better be damn sure we’re not putting another tower up on a mountain and essentially having one hand tied behind our backs in the future,” Siddon said.
Dale Kronebusch, emergency services supervisor for the RDOS, said mountaintops are desirable sites for radio gear, partly because they’re so tough to reach.
“There’s an advantage to having no road that goes up to the tower, especially when you’re talking about public safety equipment that goes in there. You want to make sure you eliminate (how) many people can get there easily so it becomes a bit more site-secure,” Kronebusch said.
He added that radios are still considered the most “tried and true” method for emergency communications.
Dan Ashton, the chair of the RDOS board, said details of the upgrade plan have yet to be finalized and it won’t be put to tender until all options are explored.
“There’s been recommendations from a consultant and now what (staff) do is they take a look at all this,” he said.
Ashton said concerns about reliance on radio equipment will be part of the discussion, but he noted that data lines, whether in-ground or above, are still susceptible to forces of nature.
As it stands now, the RDOS capital budget proposed for next year includes the $1.6-million outlay, which would be covered through borrowing.
Ashton has gone out of his way recently to note that trouble with the radio equipment is unrelated to the board’s decision to move dispatch services to Kelowna, despite “misinformation” spread by people he declined to name.
“Nobody says on the other side there’s been a substantial savings by moving dispatch to Kelowna. Have there been some growing pains? Yes. But a lot of it should be rectified by the improved infrastructure we’re bringing forward,” Ashton said.
The RDOS budget for dispatch has indeed declined from $578,452 in 2011 to the $208,233 that’s budgeted for 2013 . Ashton said the reduced cost for dispatch will easily offset the capital expenditure for new radio equipment.
Kronebusch told the board that the power lines that feed the Mount Kobau repeater likely won’t be repaired until the spring because of difficulties caused by the snow load there.
Until then, the RDOS repeater and other telecommunications equipment at the site will be run off of generators. Kronebusch said the RDOS has also taken steps to boost the capacity of the batteries it uses to back up the generator, and will also have an alarm installed that will issue an alert when the power goes down.