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County grapples with communication issues

By Richard Rourk/Staff Writer

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Communication continues to be a thorn in county official’s sides, but a new committee may be the solution the county is looking for. County officials have been trying to provide full coverage in emergency radio for years and during the Unicoi Public Safety Committee meeting on Friday, Feb. 5, a new committee was proposed to answer some years-old questions.

“We have a lot of different parts to this and one thing that holds us back is figuring out who owns what frequency, repeater and tower,” Unicoi Public Safety Committee Chairman Todd Wilcox said. According to Wilcox, years of handshake deals have led to confusion about who is responsible for the upkeep of the radio systems. “It’s been frustrating because we can’t move forward with a clear path,” Wilcox said. “There’s been so many handshake deals over the years that we need to nail this down and decide who is responsible for what.”

Unicoi County EMS Director Adam Copas agreed with Wilcox. “In the brief amount of time I’ve been here I’ve noticed that the county’s radio system is a mess,” Copas said. “The reason it’s a mess is we don’t have one governing body to oversee the radio system. Until we can get everything under one governing body, we will just continue spending money on patchwork to the emergency radio system.” According to Wilcox, the Unicoi Public Safety Committee became involved in the issue of the county’s emergency radio system after Unicoi County EMS took over as the county’s ambulance service in Aug. of 2020. “We only took up this issue to provide the EMS with a separate frequency from the FireFighters Association’s frequency,” Wilcox said.

Since taking on the numerous issues with the radio system, the Unicoi County Public Safety Committee has pulled the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, Erwin Police Department, Unicoi Police Department, the 911 board, Unicoi County EMS, the firefighters association, radio consultant Todd Malone, Emergency Management director, the late Ed Herndon, and current manager Jimmy Erwin and the Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely together to solve many of the county’s issues.

“We have been able to accomplish a lot and each entity has been able to upgrade equipment but it’s time we have one committee that is responsible for the whole system,” Wilcox said. “I propose that we establish a new committee that has representatives from each party to oversee the emergency radio.” The committee voted unanimously to establish a new committee to oversee the county’s emergency communications. “We don’t need to spend any money on equipment until we have a clear plan,” Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley said.

The Unicoi County Public Safety Committee is scheduled to meet again on Feb. 16.