Thunderstorms used to trouble Bibb County Sheriff David Davis.
He knew a lightning strike or big gust of wind could cripple communications.
That was before the consolidated Macon-Bibb County government started broadcasting sheriffs calls on a new radio system.
The $7.7 million, all-digital, 800-megahertz system from Harris Corporation RF Communications has been installed and was fully implemented last week.
Everything I hear, pardon the pun, its all good, Mayor Robert Reichert told communications workers during a celebration luncheon.
The Bibb County Sheriffs Office joined the new Harris system April 15, weeks after Macon-Bibb firefighters first tested the new system in February.
Fire Chief Marvin Riggins was as nervous as an expectant father when they flipped the switch.
Its your lifeline, but it worked, Riggins said. I was very happy to see it worked.
In the first few weeks firefighters used the system, they identified spots where there was weak transmission.
Riggins recalled the same process while installing the old communications system from the 1996 Olympics.
That was long before The Shoppes at River Crossing and Bass Pro Shops were built on the north side and developments around Hartley Bridge Road popped up on the south side.
We have about a 95 percent coverage area, Riggins said. Ideally wed have 100 percent, but there are some spots where the terrain is different.
They will map out potential trouble spots as they arise.
If Monroe County and other communities around Bibb join the system, their towers could provide extra coverage, he said.
The full evaluation of the radio wasnt possible until deputies joined firefighters.
The sheriff is impressed by the new technology.
It gives us more flexibility and we have more channels, Davis said. The clarity of the radio transmission has been very good.
For about 18 months, the Information Technology Department has been busy programming each of the 1,200 new radios and installing 200 pieces of equipment across three sites.
Communications manager Joe Taylor has coordinated 150 talk groups through the county so certain employees can communicate with each other apart from others.
Only a few channels, such as those for narcotics investigators and SWAT officers, will be encrypted to prevent eavesdropping on private scanners.
Communications testing is still going on now that the sheriffs office is in its second week of transmitting on the new technology.
Once technicians sign off on the radios, they will focus on implementing a new public safety software system, a $3 million SPLOST investment approved in 2011.
Deputies will have access to law enforcement records in their cars through the new computer-aided dispatching. Firefighters could call up building plans from their data terminals in the future too.
Although parts for the old Motorola system are getting harder to come by, the older electronics are not being wasted. The equipment is now being used for the Macon Transit Authority, Central Services and Public Works departments.
Even the old equipment from the sheriffs office is being recycled for other departments and can provide a third backup in case of emergency.
Now when a thunderstorm comes through town, I dont have to worry, Davis said. Theres plenty of backup built in. With the old system, we were just one thunderstorm away from disaster.
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.