Regional District Okanagan Similkameen Directors tackled the task of understanding the RDOS emergency radio telecommunication study at the May 16 Protective Services Committee meeting.
It was a lengthy discussion, however, that ultimately revealed little in the way of new facts or alternatives to the contentious December, 2012 Planetworks Consulting study.
RDOS directors sought assistance from DE Joinson and Associates to help bring clarity to the recommended upgrade requirements laid out in the Planetworks study, which was presented to the board late last year. Since that time, a number of issues arose with the recommendations laid out in the study, which presented two options; a one to one approach, where each RDOS firehall had a dedicated link to 911 dispatch, or the zoned approach, where clusters of firehalls shared a common link.
Several RDOS firehalls protested the zoned option, citing concerns surrounding more complicated radio operations and, in the case of Summerland and Osoyoos, the feeling that the changes would actually represent a step backward for the two departments.
Doug Joinson was present at the meeting to summarize his findings with respect to the Planetworks’ report. Much of the meeting was spent rehashing the report’s findings and recommended options, going over information that most of the directors were already well familiar with.
Some clarity over an issue concerning communications methods was finally reached when Area “D” Director Tom Siddon asked why the study proposed all radio links to dispatch, as opposed to a combination of radio and VOIP ( Voice Over Internet Protocol) or fibre optic signals.
Noting that the regional district’s contract for 911 service with Kelowna may not be in force in perpetuity, Siddon said, “The Kelowna link is a temporary one, and the cost of a tower on Okanagan Mountain may not be necessary after a few years – that’s a major part of this expenditure.
Is this the best technical point? I’m not convinced it is.”
Chief Administrative Officer Bill Newell responded, “Landlines are often the first to go down. We’re looking for redundancy – all radio links will provide that.
This option doesn’t replace telephone links – it adds redundancy.”
Joinson further explained that the Okanagan Mountain site provided the best location in the region for a radio antenna that could access zones in the Okanagan as well as the Similkameen.
The concept of providing redundancy – by having primary and backup communication links sourced through separate, single mediums – represented a breakthrough for several directors who questioned the report’s dispatch communication methods.
Osoyoos Director Stu Wells insisted that there was no failsafe method to ensure redundancy, to which Joinson replied that risk analysis had been undertaken in order that “best efforts had been made to make the system as reliable as possible.”
“There are many things you don’t address,” Wells returned, “ I want to make sure people understand this is not infallible.”
Summerland Fire Chief Glen Noble was on hand to discuss his department’s concerns with the zoned approach, while Summerland Director Janice Perrino sought assurance that her fire department’s effort and expense to keep their department’s communications links up to date would not be compromised or lost with the implementation of the Planetworks’ strategy.
During the afternoon board meeting, directors opted to authorize the Alternate Approval Process to allow funding for the upgrades. The board will also allow regional fire chiefs to look at the possibility of providing a separate zone for Summerland, a move that would allay many of the concerns of that department.