County scrutinizes $10 million radio system maintenance contract

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 5, 2020 | 12:30 p.m.

PRINCE GEORGE – Nearly two months after giving the go-ahead to move forward with developing and implementing a new multi-million dollar countywide public safety radio system, supervisors continue to scrutinize the 20-year maintenance contract and its nearly $11 million price tag.

During their first regular business meeting of 2020, county leaders once again heard from its core team involved with the implementation of the county’s new $11.5 million public safety radio system, comprised of members of law enforcement, Fire and EMS, and the county’s consultants from Altairis Technology Partners as they reviewed the maintenance proposal from L3Harris, the company that will be creating, installing and, if approved, maintaining the new radio system.

Just before Thanksgiving last year, supervisors voted unanimously, save Supervisor Floyd Brown, Jr., who was absent due to an emergency, to award L3Harris the contract to develop Prince George’s new countywide radio system as the current system reaches the end of its useful life and replacement parts are becoming increasingly difficult to acquire.

Using two separate borrowings in 2017 and 2018, the county raised $14 million to cover the costs of the project before eventually partnering with Altairis to help draft to request for proposal document that would be circulated to prospective bidders on the project.

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, L3Harris received positive marks when Prince George reps interacted with other jurisdictions who have systems provided by the company.

The company’s system is expected to provide expansive coverage across Prince George County while allowing for stronger connections to the system inside heavier commercial structures and coverage inside light commercial facilities. It also includes hundreds of user units, ranging from vehicle-based and handheld radios to pagers.

While county leaders supported upgrading Prince George’s aging radio system, the sticking point for several months has been the 20-year maintenance proposal from the system’s developers L3Harris, going as far as to approve the radio system project itself but forgoing action on the maintenance plan as supervisors sought additional information from the company and Altairis.

In subsequent presentations, Robert Stack with Altairis detailed L3Harris’ proposal, noting that the $10.7 million, 20-year maintenance will help ensure a two-decade life for the new system, while keeping up with advancing technology.

In more specific terms, the contract would provide for infrastructure maintenance, from key parts of the system down to end-user equipment, like radios, software updates, and a refresh of hardware during the 7th and 14th year of the agreement. Additionally, the county would have a “dedicated, full-time service technician who will live in Prince George County” through L3Harris whose sole job is to perform operations on the system along with “24-7-365 on-call service for the new system.”

In total, the contract will cost Prince George $10,766,140 over its 20-year life. When further breaking down the numbers, the first year of the maintenance plan is considered the warranty year by L3Harris meaning, over 19 years, the $10.7 million total equals to $566,638 per year.

Prince George currently pays its radio system vendor, according to Police Chief Keith Early, roughly $150,000 annually for maintenance on the present system.

When taking into consideration the cost of the radio system itself when it was approved, approximately $11.5 million, by the end of the 20-year maintenance contract in December 2042 based on the project’s current timelines, Prince George will have paid $22.2 million for the new radio system.

For supervisors, while cost was a leading concern, the “dedicated, full-time service technician” drew the most questions during this month’s work session as they questioned how quickly that individual would respond to emergencies involving the system.

According to Stack, L3Harris uses “levels” to grade specific incidents that involve a given system and dictates the expediency of a technician’s response to it. Level 3 is the least serious and result in a next-day response, using the example of an individual user radio failing, where it can be swapped out for another unit easily.

Somewhat more urgent, Level 2 would require the technician to be on-site within four hours and Level 1 is the highest classification, which likely involve issues that render the radio system inoperable or severely impacted, requiring an on-site presence within two hours. That individual would be paged and alerted to the issue or directly contacted by county dispatch, as a terminal will be present inside the center to show any alarms that require attention.

Responding to a question from Supervisor T.J. Webb about who dictates what is a Level 1, 2, or 3 incident, the county or L3Harris, Stack said it is all detailed within the proposed maintenance contract but, the county can change the priority of any alarm as they see fit.

In the event that dedicated technician is not available, such as them being on vacation and away from Prince George County, Stack explained L3Harris would be “contractually obligated” to respond to any alarms that arise through their maintenance agreement, adding it is likely the company would have someone fill the spot until that technician returned to work.

As the county continues to review the $10-plus million maintenance agreement, Prince George Police Chief Keith Early called it “essential” in helping to ensure the new system’s operations for years to come.

“It is slated to cover us for the next 20 years to ensure that we are operational,” Early said, adding, while he hoped to bring the proposal back before the board of supervisors this week for consideration, it is “not critical” to sign the contract now.

“There are some benefits but the money, the way the contract is designed, is the same and it would be, in fact, one year after acceptance of the radio system, which, right now, would put us on our schedule of December 2022,” he said. “So the money, whether we sign it now or later, no money is due until, at the absolute earliest, December of 2022.”

Even though Early said he hoped to have to item on their agenda for this week’s meeting, as of the publishing of this article in the January 29 edition of The Prince George Journal, the board of supervisors’ agenda did not have the appropriation request. Supervisors could vote to amend their agenda and have it added to their order of business for their Jan. 28 meeting.

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