By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

YCOM urged to address deficiencies

Last summer, when the county passed the day-to-day operational reins back to the YCOM Executive Board, the board agreed to contract with the AdComm Engineering Company to deliver a report outlining the current status of YCOM’s emergency communications system and the agency’s options as it charts its future course.

The report, presented by Joe Blaschka, addresses financial, staff and equipment needs. It puts particular focus on YCOM’s aging microwave equipment, considered the backbone of its field communications system.

The county began overhauling major portions of its dispatching and emergency communications systems in 2003.

After running into serious problems, the county fired its consultant and asked its information systems director, Murray Paolo, if he could salvage the overhaul effort. By that point, it had spent a lot of money with little to show in return.

Paolo had to virtually start over, and with funding now in short supply, the county opted to make do with used equipment for the radio system’s crucial microwave element. He completed his work in July 2012, triggering the county move to return oversight to YCOM.

The county encountered opposition from YCOM board members concerned about the aging microwave component. It pushed on anyway, but agreed to have AdComm work up a comprehensive assessment for board consideration.

The used equipment got the radio system operational, buying the organization time to develop a financing scheme for new replacement equipment, Blaskchka said.

The agency is now at the point where it needs to take the next step, he said. “The (microwave) system is at the end of its life, and should be replaced within the next three to four years,” he said.

Adcomm is recommending YCOM separate its dispatching function, which is in good shape, from its radio communications function, which needs help, and develop separate revenue streams for each. It said some parts of the system could serve revenue-generating needs such as remote meter-reading, which the board should explore.

“A separate dedicated accounting cost center for the radio program should be created within the YCOM financial structure and budget,” it said. “By tracking both revenues and expenses associated with the program through a new cost center, there will be greater visibility and accountability.”

In order for YCOM to be successful, the report is also recommending changes in its management structure.

While the radio technicians currently report to Janis Cameron, YCOM executive director, Adcomm is suggesting other alternatives be considered.

“The director excels in her knowledge, skills and abilities to manage all aspects of a public safety answering point, but does not have in-depth knowledge of radio systems, associated network technologies or ongoing maintenance,” Adcomm said in the report. “The unfortunate result of the situation is that the radio technicians essentially are self-managed and evidence indicates that self management has not been optimal to the overall operation.”

The report outlines several options, including hiring a technical services manager at approximately $100,000 a year, contracting out both management and maintenance and assigning management to Paolo and maintenance to a service contractor.

The report continues: “There have been a number of past and recent political issues associated with the radio program that resulted in the appearance of instability at the policy level of the organization. As a consequence, the city of McMinnville essentially built and operates a separate public safety radio network on a small portion of the county-wide infrastructure.

“This division continues today because the city’s radio network is built with Motorola proprietary equipment, while the countywide system is not. Arguably, these two systems using the same infrastructure are, to a certain degree, duplicating efforts and expense on a number of levels. However, the city chose this path as the most stable solution at the time solutions were needed.”

It concludes: “Today, the political atmosphere has settled and there may be a window of opportunity to enter into long-term planning that could unite the systems in the future. Of course these processes will take years to realize, but decisions made today will yield incremental change that will lead to the long-term outcome.”

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