Houston County, Georgia's Switch To 800 MHz Goes Off Without a Hitch

The transition to Houston County's new 911 communications system went smoothly, authorities said Wednesday.

"We never lost radio contact," said Houston County Sheriff's Capt. Ricky Harlowe, commander of the 911 center.

During a period of six hours Tuesday, the nine agencies serviced by the central dispatch system were switched over one by one from the old UHF, VHF analog system to the new 800-megahertz digital system - with one exception, Harlowe said.

Centerville and Perry Fire Departments were switched over together because they're smaller agencies, he said.

The other agencies are the Warner Robins Police Department, Warner Robins Fire Department, Houston County Sheriff's Office, Houston County Fire Department, Emergency Medical Service, Centerville Police Department, and Perry Police Department.

The transition began at about 9 a.m. and ended at about 3 p.m., he said.

"We're tickled to death to have it," said Houston County Sheriff Cullen Talton. "We had a lot of areas in the county where we couldn't communicate with our radios and this is going to resolve it."

While there were no problems during the transmission of 911 emergency communication, there were some minor, internal problems with the administration phone lines, Harlowe said.

For example, a non-emergency call would come in and be lost in the transfer to the new number, or a person's number didn't match the one that was supposed to be assigned to him or her, he said.

The new system should improve response times, Harlowe said. Also, the new system provides for communication via a computer laptop, on which police officers and other emergency personnel may communicate with 911 headquarters without speaking, Harlowe said.

The system's drawback, at least for members of the public who like to listen in on emergency communications, is that most scanners won't be able to pick up the communication, he said. However, scanners that are "Apco 25 compliant" will work with the the new system, he said.

The old analog system's way of communication can be compared to radio waves bouncing across the county, while the new digital system is like an umbrella over the entire county, said Harlowe.

The $12.5 million to fund the new system was generated by the 2002 referendum for a 1-cent increase in the local option sales tax, Harlowe said.