Jenkins, now the director of Calhoun County 911, started 2013 as director of the Alabama Regional Communication System, which oversaw the operations of the 800 megahertz communication system that linked first responders and safety agencies throughout Calhoun and Talladega counties. That system is now under the watch of Calhoun County 911’s board of directors, and this month the agency began a $4.1 million upgrade of the system.
“We’re obviously excited to finally see this happen,” Jenkins said. “We’re happy the 911 board took control of this communication system because it’s important to see this system continue for our region.”
If the 911 board hadn’t taken over for the now-defunct Regional Communication System, the 800 MHz system might have died along with it.
Federal funding paid for the system in the 1990s when the U.S. Army stored chemical weapons in Anniston. When the last of the weapons were destroyed in 2011, the Alabama Regional Communication System was established to oversee operations of the radio system. Its board of directors tried unsuccessfully earlier this year to get state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, to sponsor legislation that would have asked Calhoun and Talladega county residents to approve new property taxes to pay for the upgrade as well as to keep safety resource officers in county schools.
“That was frustrating,” said Mike Fincher, a former member of the Regional Communication System board, and current member of the 911 board. “We had to create an ad hoc committee to figure out a way to save this system.”
When the legislation died, the board scrambled to find a new home for the system, with the 911 board taking over the county’s portion in July, and the Talladega County Commission overseeing the Talladega portion in August. Both counties signed a contract with Motorola in October to begin the upgrade of the system.
“Like any equipment and technology, you need to upgrade or it becomes obsolete,” Jenkins said. “We were in danger of having a very old system that would be impossible to fix.”
The upgrade will come in two phases, one this month and the other in May, Jenkins said.
As the system is updated, the 911 board is looking for new users to join the 3,100 in Talladega and Calhoun counties, and for more growth. Jenkins said the Heflin Police Department is currently testing the system to see if it would like to join, and there has been discussion about linking the system with similar communication systems in Birmingham and in Baldwin and Madison counties.
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.