Antennas on the roof of St. Charles Bend as part of a troubled $5 million upgrade by the region’s 911 service district are ineffective because they were installed facing the wrong way, officials confirmed Tuesday at the Deschutes 911 monthly user board meeting.
The panels, part of an analog-to-digital upgrade, were installed by a subcontractor of the district’s vendor, Harris Corp., using configuration settings developed by Harris. Re-orienting the panels could clear up patchy audio inside a large rectangle-shaped coverage hole that runs from Pilot Butte east to U.S. Highway 20.
“We definitely need those panels changed,” said Tim Beuschlein, the county’s public safety systems lead.
The coverage hole existed in the old radio system, but adding the St. Charles radio site in the tech upgrade was intended to fix that, Beuschlein said.
Police officers and other public employees who use the local 911 service district’s new P-25 system have filed hundreds of formal complaints with Harris since the system went live in July.
Formal complaints by police have decreased over the past month, according to trouble ticket data obtained by The Bulletin. But instances of dropped, missing or garbled calls still occur almost daily.
Despite the problems, Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said he hasn’t felt good about the radio project until recently.
“I do feel like we’re finally moving in the right direction,” Porter said Tuesday.
Other ongoing fixes discussed Tuesday:
• A trailer housing a temporary transmission tower is expected to be installed on Overturf Butte by next week, with a plan for a permanent tower in development.
• An antenna crew is expected to complete work on Deschutes 911’s Hinkle Butte site, which is expected to improve radio coverage in downtown Sisters and nearby Cloverdale.
• Next, the crew will adjust the orientation of the tower at Fivemile Butte, which should reduce interference and clean up scratchy audio on mountain roads near Camp Sherman and Hogg Rock.
Also discussed Tuesday, Oregon State Police have experienced problems with the local Harris system, as well as with its own new Harris system. For that, the Oregon Department of Transportation chose Harris as its vendor several years ago in the State Radio Project, an effort to allow agencies to communicate in the event of a major disaster.
“It’s an issue that’s not just affecting us, but the troopers here in Central Oregon on both our 911 sites and also state sites,” Beuschlein said.
The state maintains 40 radio sites around Oregon. Deschutes 911 maintains 12, including five added in the recent tech upgrade.
The temporary and permanent towers planned for Overturf Butte both require permits from the city and Federal Communications Commission.
The latest developments are playing out amid a leadership transition. Tuesday was the last board meeting for Steve Reinke, Deschutes 911 director, who recently announced his retirement. Reinke has been under fire since the Next Generation 911 system went live for not taking seriously the complaints officers were having with the new Harris system.
Reinke insisted the decision was based on personal circumstances, though the conditions at the end of his time in Deschutes County were “unfortunate.”
Sheriff Shane Nelson praised Reinke as a “great listener.”
“I want to thank Steve for his service,” Nelson said. “I’ve appreciated your advice and your experience.”
Reinke has been a director of 911 services at three agencies. His background includes stints as a 911 dispatcher, sheriff’s deputy, firefighter-paramedic and air traffic controller.
He’s served as director of Deschutes 911 since 2014.
Following his last day — April 30 — Reinke’s second-in-command, Sara Crosswhite, operations director, will take over as interim director. There is no plan to launch a formal search for a permanent replacement, said Deschutes County Administrator Tom Anderson.
An administrative-level position is also being created to provide leadership for the implementation of the new system. The recruitment period for a deputy director of technical services closed recently.
Interviews with finalists will be held April 3.
The Deschutes County Commission has approved a pay range for the position of $107,000 to $151,000 per year.
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