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Voters to weigh in on emergency radio bond

$58.7 million bond would boost West Linn's emergency communications

In December 2012, when West Linn Police Captain Neil Hennelly was on scene helping respond to the Clackamas Town Center shooting, he turned to his radio to ask a question to other first responders.

“Where do you want people evacuated?” he asked.

The analog radio signal bounced around the structures at the Town Center, and perhaps it did reach its intended recipients. Hennelly never found out.

“I never, to this day, got an answer to that question,” Hennelly said.

It was a real-world, high-stakes example of a problem Clackamas County responders — be they police officers, fire fighters or emergency health workers — have dealt with for decades: the county’s emergency radio system is out of date and needs replacement.

Clackamas County voters will decide whether to fund that replacement when they weigh in on ballot measure 3-476 on the May 17 ballot, which proposes a $58.7 million bond issue to update the analog system with new digital technology. That amounts to about 10 cents per $1,000 in household assessed value, or around $25 annually for an average homeowner.

The radio system was last updated in 2000, using technology from 1990, according to Clackamas 800 Radio Group.

Clackamas 800 Radio Group provides service for West Linn Police, as well as police departments in Oregon City and Lake Oswego, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, among others.

“What this is going to do is upgrade the backbone of the entire radio system,” Hennelly said. “It would add towers, add capabilities — one of the things we learned in the post-9/11 world is that radios don’t work very well in steel frame buildings. ... If you look at the steel structured buildings in town — the police station, the fire station, the high school, City Hall — you get spotty radio reception because of the construction of the building.”

Theoretically, a switch from analog to digital would help alleviate those reception problems, and the proposed addition of 14 new radio towers across the county would also help fortify the communications system.

“Day to day here, we would get clearer radio communications,” Hennelly said. “We have some dead spots in town and that should go away.”

Of course, West Linn will always face certain challenges with reception, Hennelly said, simply because of its topography.

“Radio waves do best on flat ground — we have very little of that,” he said. “It’s like a city glued on a hill.”

In keeping with the recent surge in interest in emergency preparedness, the bond as proposed would also upgrade radio tower sites to ensure they are seismically sound.

“So we should have, in theory, radio systems (in a disaster), as long as we get power to charge them up,” Hennelly said.

Finally, the upgraded system would allow for a wider blanket of coverage, from Mount Hood all the way down to Eugene — where WLPD has, at times, sent detectives according to Hennelly.

“It would take the middle man out of the equation when you’re trying to broadcast information,” Hennelly said.

Don’t forget to vote

To learn more about the proposed bond, visit c800.org/radio-replacement-


Find more election news at westlinntidings.com