By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 16, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – After several meetings where county supervisors opted to postpone action on approving an $11.5 million contract to pay for the development, installation and implementation of a new countywide public safety radio system, leaders formally voted to move forward with the project after receiving positive feedback from the county’s police and emergency services top brass.
Just before Thanksgiving, supervisors voted unanimously, save Vice-Chair Floyd Brown, Jr., who was absent due to an emergency, to award the $11.5 million contract to L3Harris, who will be tasked with bringing the county forward technology wise when it comes to public safety connectivity as the current system, according to Prince George Police Chief Keith Early, was purchased over a decade ago and has reached the end of its life as parts and key equipment are beginning to become difficult to attain.
“The County’s equipment will become antiquated with limited usage as the system approaches [the] end of life,” the county’s FY2016-FY2025 capital improvement plan stated. “Replacement parts will also become increasingly difficult if not impossible to find. In the event of any portion of the system failing, repair will more than likely not be an option.”
Since that time, the county has worked to raise the funds needed for the project, opting to split just over $14 million of the project’s expected cost across two separate borrowings in 2017 and 2018, with finance director Betsy Drewry recommending the splitting of costs due to “projected affordability of required interest payments in the FY2018 budget, and due to the estimated project timeline spanning at least two fiscal years.”
From 2018 onward, Altairis Technology Partners worked with the county and several key members of the county police, fire, EMS, and school division as part of the development of the project’s request for proposal to the business community, along with vetting respondents to see if a prospective contractor can meet the requirements of the nearly 5,000-line item long complete RFP document.
Through that vetting process, L3Harris was found to be the highest scoring vendor of the two finalists, with Motorola being significantly outpaced by the company. According to county documents, both companies scored close to one another in the areas of technical specifications, project implementation services, which includes design, testing, and migration from the old system to the new system, along with experience of staff. Those documents did show L3Harris stood out in the area of price, which looked at the initial purchase price, subscriber units, ongoing costs, price transparency, and payment terms, among others, with the company earning a perfect score of 20 in that category, while Motorola only earned a five.
In total, L3Harris earned 95 out of 100 points in the county’s evaluation of the two vendors while Motorola earned 58 points.
Additionally, county documents showed county staff interacted with three communities that also had Harris P25 systems installed, New Kent, Chesapeake, and Spotsylvania. During site visits to New Kent and Chesapeake, officials said both communities found L3Harris to be “much lower” in terms of price and they were satisfied with the company’s customer service.
They both also saw improved and increased coverage in their communities through Harris’ system.
Prince George County Police Chief Keith Early and Fire and EMS Director Brad Owens are joined by the core team who worked closely on the ongoing public safety radio project. Last week, the group recommended L3Harris be selected as the vendor to develop and install the $11 million system. (Michael Campbell)
During a telephone interview, Spotsylvania’s Deputy Fire Chief Jason Irby told the county that overall system performance was good, though they had some issues with L3Harris user units on the fire/EMS side but, the issue was handled by the company and was found to be “a handheld mic issue, not a radio issue.”
This system that would be developed and implemented by L3 Harris would feature nine towers that will help provide countywide, in-building coverage for the county’s first responders. In addition, dispatcher equipment for the county’s 911 center along with user radios are part of the system. Specifically regarding coverage, Altairis’ Robert Stack told supervisors, while he doesn’t expect the system to provide 100 percent coverage across the entire county, he did say the project conforms to the public safety standard of 95 percent of the county’s geographical area having coverage 95 percent of the time.
In a referential map provided by Altairis in September, the new system’s coverage map shows radio signal would be able to penetrate “heavier commercial buildings” throughout much of the county, while the remainder of the county would see radio signals be able to be received inside light commercial and residential structures, with very few pockets where signal can only be attained outdoors.
In regards to user equipment, over 400 handheld radios, 267 vehicular radios, and 200 pagers will be distributed to police, including the emergency communications center, sheriff, and animal control,fire, including EMS and emergency management, the county’s general services department, and Prince George County Public Schools.
In the lead-up to last week’s decision, a sticking point for supervisors and volunteer firefighter Reid Foster, who spoke during several public comment periods on the topic in recent months, was the 20-year maintenance program through L3Harris as part of the radio system’s development, which will cost an additional $566,638 for 19 years after the one-year warranty on the system ends, totaling $10.7 million by the end of those 19 years.
According to county documents, that warranty covers “infrastructure maintenance,” a “refresh” of hardware during the seventh and fourteenth year of the 20-year maintenance, meaning items like user radios would be replaced with updated equipment during those two cycles, software updates for those radios and system infrastructure, and maintenance of user radios.
In total, based on the now-approved contract cost and factoring in the 20-year maintenance warranty, which is just over $566,000 for 19 years, the county’s new radio system will cost $22.2 million by the end of L3Harris maintenance warranty in 2042.
From here, L3Harris is expected to complete the system’s detailed design in February of next year, with manufacturing and factory testing place through the middle of next year. The new system is scheduled to be delivered to the county in October of 2020 and completely installed by the spring of 2021. During that time, it is expected that testing of the new system will take place with the trees in full bloom so L3Harris’ engineers and the county can get a true sense of the new system’s coverage and identify any problems to have them rectified prior to accepting the completed system.
Once that is completed, “cutover,” or the technical switch over from the old system to the new one is scheduled for October of 2021 and, barring any issues, the new system would be accepted the following month in December of 2021, with this schedule showing just over two years of development remain in the multi-million dollar project’s future.
One year after that “cutover,” the first year of the 19-year maintenance plan begins in December of 2022.
Last week, following the topic being tabled for several meetings, when speaking on the project to county leaders, Chief Early along with Fire and EMS Director Brad Owens recommended the system be approved with L3Harris.
“Your county team is recommending the award of contract to L3Harris to replace our current radio system with a new, supported, modern, state-of-the-art system,” Early remarked. “An efficient, effective radio system is critical infrastructure in the safety of all of our first responders and overall county communications,” noting that all agencies have had a seat at the table and have been engaged in any changes or developments in the project.
Additionally, Wayne Duff with L3Harris told supervisors the opportunity exists for regional cooperation as the county, if it so desired, could interconnect with another community who plans to use Project 25-type, or P25, for short, of digital radio communications and that locality could take advantage of the infrastructure already in place in Prince George County, with Duff noting other communities they have worked with have utilized a similar system, where a county serves as a hub for the regional system and other localities pay a user fee to be part of the system or assist with maintenance costs, creating a cost saving opportunity for those communities.
Prince George’s neighbors to the west in Dinwiddie County are in the early stages of developing their own radio system project but it is unknown if they are pursuing a similar P25-type system.
An update on the project’s progress, now with funding having been approved, is expected sometime next year.
Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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