FLIPPING THE SWITCH: County joins statewide radio system

Thomas Howard / The Meridian Star

Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie uses his MSWIN radio Wednesday to stay updated on incidents deputies are working. “It’s a great tool for mutual aid,” he said.

Lauderdale County first responders will have better reception and greater communication options after the county completes its switch to the statewide Mississippi Wireless Information Network.

The MSWIN system, which is operated by the Mississippi Wireless Communications Commission, was created after Hurricane Katrina to address compatibility and reliability issues with the state’s network of county and municipality operated emergency communications systems.

Lauderdale County Emergency Management Director Odie Barrett said Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department completed the switch to the MSWIN system on Oct. 6, and the feedback from deputies had been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s going great,” he said.

Sheriff Billy Sollie said Wednesday deputies hadn’t reported any issues with dead areas with the new radios.

“I haven’t had any deputies complain about dead spots,” he said.

Barrett said he was exited about moving to the new system. The MSWIN network, he said, is cheaper, more reliable and makes coordinating with outside agencies easier.

In the past, Barrett said, a large emergency response with outside help would mean scrounging additional radios to pass out to assisting agencies because their radios wouldn’t talk to the county’s system.

With the MSWIN system, he said, it takes a phone call to the MWCC to get a dedicated channel everyone can use.

“All we have to do is call the wireless commission and tell them what we’re doing,” he said.

Communication is a crucial tool for first responders, Sollie said, and the new radios make it easier to communicate with other agencies when cooperation is needed.

“It’s a great tool for mutual aid,” he said.

The MSWIN system also covers more of Lauderdale County, Barrett said. The county’s old Motorola system used three radio towers to relay signals, which left some areas of the county where first responders couldn’t communicate.

There are five MSWIN towers throughout Lauderdale County, and an additional two towers nearby, Barrett said. With the ability to use seven towers instead of three, radio communications will be more reliable.

“It has opened up communications, ” he said.

With the additional towers, Sollie said the sheriff’s department was able to eliminate some of the radios in department vehicles. In patrol cars, he said deputies still have a vehicle radio in addition to the radio on their person, but members of the East Mississippi Drug Task Force, Sheriff’s administration and some other deputies could stay in contact with just a handheld.

And, Barrett said, the MSWIN system is cheaper for Lauderdale County residents. As a state-run network, MSWIN is paid for by the taxpayers, he said. By joining, the county is putting the taxpayer money to good use and eliminating the need for an additional county-run radio network.

Operating the old system cost county taxpayers about $120,000 a year, Barrett said. After an initial purchase of new equipment to join the MSWIN network, he said the system will be far less expensive to run.

“It’ll be cost neutral in about 8 years,” he said, “After that, the taxpayers will save about $120,000 a year.”

Barrett said the county looked at MSWIN for several years before making the switch. With the county’s 10-year contract with its old provider ending, he said the timing made sense. Additionally, Barrett said the county’s radio system was becoming obsolete, and the county would have needed to buy new equipment regardless of the radio system used.

“We were going to have to do something by 2025 anyway,” he said.

After making sure radios were distributed among the county’s first responders, Barrett said the remaining departments were set to complete the switch to MSWIN on Tuesday.

The City of Meridian will stay on the old system for the time being, he said, but plans are in place to switch to MSWIN as well.

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