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Collier County first responders express concern over radio system

Concerns about Collier County’s public safety radio system were brought forward at a Feb. 6 Board of County Commissioners workshop covering the county’s 57 priority projects and annual inventory report. A group of first responders and the county’s communication team said the radio system needs a massive update.   

The project, known as the 800-Megahertz Radio Hardening Program, was marked by the county as a priority last year with the board approving $6 million for the project. Of those funds, $2.5 million has been spent in the past year on hardening elements, including relocation of a cell tower in the Everglades.  

Upon meeting with first responders, Deputy County Manager Edward Finn said the remainder of the allocated funds should go toward replacing the entire radio system rather than hardening the existing system.  

Telecommunications Manager Nathaniel Hinkle spoke to the board on the importance of replacing the system. Current technology being used by first responders was purchased in 2015, which Hinkle said is outdated and has become unreliable. L3Harris and Communications International are the county’s current vendors for communications.  

“L3Harris and Communications International have failed to meet the needs of Collier County time and time again,” Hinkle said. “I’ve heard this from many of our agencies, and it concerns me greatly. They have serious deficiencies with a lack of timely response to critical system outages, and I’m here to express my concerns that this may lead to an officer-safety issue in the near future.”  

After Hurricane Irma in 2017, the system failed for more than 12 hours. It also failed for more than six hours after Hurricane Ian. 

Hinkle said Motorola is the best vendor to use going forward. It would take 18 to 24 months to make the switch because the existing telecommunications system must remain active during the installation of the new system. The towers would need to be retrofitted, and new antennas must be added.   

“We have a good idea of the estimate of the cost, but the bottom line is you’re out of capacity, and with what the emergency services experiences you don’t have enough trunk line for all the communications that occur during an emergency,” Deputy County Manager Daniel Rodriguez said. “People get dropped off, that includes your school board, as well, that uses our system for emergencies.”  

Rodriguez said he met with Motorola’s vice president for the southern region of the U.S. to discuss what the company can provide for the county.  

“There are not many vendors out there. If you look at the communications industry, you might have one or two or three tops, but there’s one that certainly stands out as it relates to emergency response communications,” Rodriguez said.  

Greater Naples Fire Rescue District Chief Nolan Sapp has been with Collier public safety for more than 30 years and was part of the committee that selected General Electric to be the county’s vendor in 1994. Since then, the vendor has been sold to another company multiple times, and he said the equipment and core technology cannot be depended upon any longer.  

“We’ve had situations where we’ve had house fires in Golden Gate City and the communication will just drop out for no reason,” Sapp said.  

Hinkle said the board should consider adding more radio towers in the eastern part of the county where development is expanding, particularly in areas off Oil Well Road and State Road 29.  

The board acted quickly, directing staff to put together a plan to approach the issue so it can be discussed at a Feb. 13 meeting.   


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