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Coordinating emergency response in the mountains

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Gilpin County

By Roger Baker

The Gilpin County Commissioners don’t have special meetings very often, but they had one this past Friday.

The inconvenience is a minor factor, though they are all very busy people, and finding a time other than a Tuesday when they are all available can be a struggle.

More than that, though, there’s always a scent of impropriety about having meetings with very little notice, on a day when folks who might ordinarily attend a meeting (including the press!) might be otherwise occupied.  (Colorado open meetings law requires only that such meetings be posted here at the Courthouse 24 hours in advance; we did that, but also sent agendas to the local newspapers and other who might be interested, to let as many people as possible know about the meeting).

The unusual Friday meeting, though, was necessitated by one of those cooperative projects of which we are so fond, and which (generally) do us so much good.

Specifically, the County has been participating for the past several years in a project along with the other member counties and organizations of the North Central All-Hazards Region (NCR), a planning consortium that was born in the aftermath of the 9-11 tragedy to coordinate emergency response – and, not incidentally, act as a clearinghouse for distributing federal funds that flowed down to the states.

The particular project in question was wrapping up, and Gilpin County was facing some difficult deadlines. The 800 mHz system which the flatland members of NCR had adopted – provided by Motorola – would work well enough down there, but the high country users – Gilpin & Clear Creek counties, and the City of Black Hawk – had to stick with a VHF-based system because of our topography. All of which meant that, in order for our emergency personnel and communications centers to be able to communicate with all the metro area, we needed to install VHF simulcast equipment.

Since the VHF requirement was by our request, installation of it was on our dime. But the timeline to allow connection to the larger system was mandated by Motorola, and required that we be up and running by September 30. There also was an FCC (Federal Communication Commission) “public safety waiver” that we were operating under, and that expired by the end of this year; if we continued to use our old system (and frequencies) after that, we were subject to daily fines.

All of this came together in a perfect storm that led Arapaho County Sheriff Grayson Robinson – current NCR chair – to send us a strongly worded letter requiring a decision by August 23, which is why the Commissioners ended up meeting that very day.

The last remaining stumbling block was the construction of a tower to hang all this new communication equipment on. Because that construction was at our cost, we naturally wanted to minimize it; but efforts to utilize some structures that we already had ran afoul of County codes and wind load requirements – we don’t want this all blowing down in a typical winter storm.

Anyway, all our efforts to save the County some money ran out of time, so we just had to bite the bullet and contract with a tower company to build a brand new tower at the Justice Center. Fortunately, two of the companies that have been erecting such towers all over the metro area were able to submit bids, and the Commissioners chose (not surprisingly) the less costly of the two.

But we’ll make very sure they know about our wind loads up here…

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