SUBLETTE COUNTY – Given the county’s mountainous terrain, emergency first responders have struggled to find a consistent mode of communication that covers all parts of the county.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) has been spearheading a statewide digital system – WyoLink – that is “designed to coordinate and integrate communications between state, local and federal public safety agencies,” according to WYDOT.
But officials throughout the state, including Sublette County, are having second thoughts on WyoLink.
“There are quite a few counties that are questioning whether they are going to move forward with WyoLink,” commissioner Dr. David Burnett reported at last Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Many of the problems with WyoLink stem from the inadequate coverage in places like Sublette County, where the topography of the land poses additional challenges to radio communication.
“If we don’t address this, it’s really compromising the safety of our firefighters,” Sublette County Unified Fire (SCUF) Chief Shad Cooper told the commissioners last week, pointing to the need for “consistent coverage and communication for our emergency responders.”
In Sheriff K.C. Lehr’s mind, there are two options available to the county.
“One, we can continue with the WyoLink, the state system,” Lehr said, “or a standalone system just within the county.”
Cooper, Lehr and some other county officials met with WYDOT staffers, hoping to hammer out some of the county’s concerns.
“Our meetings with the state and WyoLink haven’t been very favorable,” Lehr said last week. “And a lot of people in this state are having the same experience as well.”
In addition to the topographical challenges that WyoLink has yet to address through the installation of more radio towers, people are also worried about the proposed cost of using the system.
“Our deadline with WyoLink is 2018,” Lehr said. “After that date, they have proposed a billing for the number of radios and usage of radios … Every time you push a (radio) button, the fee is going to go up.”
Annual costs are currently projected to be between $20,000 and $40,000, and if some counties opt not to use WyoLink, those costs could rise since the same costs would be shared by fewer counties.
For Lehr, WyoLink would be the most preferable option, but not if the county’s concerns are ignored.
“Ultimately, we would like to go with WyoLink,” the sheriff said. “But if they’re not going to give us a seat at the table and listen to recommendations and what is going to be best for everyone, then no. … Undoubtedly, we could have the same or better service as WyoLink – at a cost.”
According to county clerk Mary Lankford, the county has set aside reserve money for “communications issues and IT issues, so we’ve got a pot of money to draw from” if the commissioners decided to pursue the county’s own communications system.
But the county decided that one more chat with WYDOT may be in order before the decision is made.
WYDOT Director Bill Panos put in a request to meet with the commissioners on the issue.
“If he wants to talk to me about fishing, I’ll be more than happy to talk to him,” said commissioner Mack Rawhouser. “But if he wants to talk about radios, then he needs to talk to these (first responder) people.”
“And that’s where the last meeting went awry,” chair Andy Nelson said. “(WYDOT) wanted to talk to us.”
The commissioners agreed to call a special meeting to meet with Panos in the coming weeks.
In other news from the meeting:
It was installed by former sheriff Dave Lankford “as a public service thing.”
“I guess I’m inclined to make sure it works and runs – and maintain it,” Nelson said.