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Officials consider new radio tower

By Staff
OLD TOWER Sgt. Michael Street of the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department uses his hand-held radio. Lauderdale County's only radio tower for emergency communication, in operation since the 1970s, looms in the background. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Aug. 10, 2001
The need for a new radio tower to facilitate emergency communications in Lauderdale County could push its way to the forefront as supervisors meet next week to work on the fiscal year 2002 budget.
The current tower is deteriorating, hindering the ability of deputies and emergency workers to talk with each other and with dispatchers.
District 3 Supervisor Craig Hitt, a member of the E-911 committee, said local officials share his sense of urgency.
Problems with the old tower
E-911 Director John Mott said earlier this year the old tower was built in the early 1970s, and that it would take at least six months to build a new one.
The old tower, located off Scruggs Road in southeast Meridian, belongs to both the county and city. Supervisors and city council members have been working together to solve problems caused partly by the tower's age, Hitt said.
When the tower's side lights went out in the spring, Lauderdale County Fire Coordinator Clarence Butler told supervisors no one was willing to climb the tower to replace them because for fear it would collapse.
Hitt said an E-911 Commission subcommittee is gathering information and estimates for construction of a new tower.
One option is to have a private company build a tower and lease antennae space to the county, city and other private businesses, Hitt said.
Effect on law enforcement
Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said deputies often have to rely on cell phones to communicate; their hand-held radio units don't work in rural areas of the county with only one tower.
The deputies' car radios worked most of the time, but if they were out of their cruisers as they often are during emergencies they couldn't rely on their hand-held radios.
Butler and Sollie say another need is a radio system called an 800 trunking system. The current system doesn't allow county and city departments to communicate on the same frequency.
Even though E-911 has been consolidated, Sollie said dispatchers must use one console to dispatch city calls and another for county calls.
Sollie said deputies have jurisdiction within city limits as well as outside. When they can't talk with city police officers, they aren't able to assist as quickly. Nor are they able to get the quickest reports of suspects fleeing Meridian into the county.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3275, or e-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.