EAST COUNTY — Willie Miranda’s day starts almost as soon as he rolls out of bed around 6 a.m.
From his laptop, he monitors Manatee County’s radio communication system and begins the morning’s tasks.
“The days are long, but I like to get started early — before the calls (start),” Miranda says, laughing.
Miranda, a 53-year-old Greenbrook resident, is leading Manatee County as it works with Sarasota County to install a regional 800-megahertz P25 radio system over the next two years. In Manatee, the technology change will affect all fire districts, emergency medical services, law enforcement, public works and the cities of Bradenton, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria, among others — about 40 agencies. In Sarasota, 39 agencies will use the system.
The system likely will cost around $30 million — estimates range from $15 million to $18 million for Manatee and from $18 million to $19 million for Sarasota.
“Why so much money? Whenever everything else fails, we need to keep on going with fire, EMS,” said Miranda, Manatee’s radio communications manager. “Cell phones are the first things to go down. We have to guarantee we can still provide those services.”
Sarasota and Manatee counties expect the request for proposal on the project to come back Aug. 15. Miranda said a vendor should be selected to install the system by December, and then deployment of the P25 system will take 18 to 24 months.
“We have to do a seamless transition, because we can’t afford (for it not to be).”
University Parkway, owned by Manatee County to the north (westbound) and Sarasota County to the south (eastbound), is a good example of why the system is needed, Miranda said. Counties may not transmit signals past three miles into another county’s territory. Plus, each county maintains its own proprietary radio system, so Sarasota and Manatee’s radio systems are not compatible.
“They have to patch channels (to communicate along University),” Miranda said. “That takes away on the response time and situational awareness.”
The project is one that will not only allow Sarasota and Manatee to communicate with one another more efficiently, but also will save both governments money, including about 50% on system-core maintenance, and on future hardware and software upgrades, equipment purchases and other instances in which buying power can influence costs. The savings comes from both counties using one system.
Plus, each county’s core network, which Miranda calls the “brains of the system,” will back up the other.
“It’s all about inter-operable communications,” Miranda said. “Currently, first responders mostly aren’t able to talk to one another, particularly if in different jurisdictions.”
The P25 system also will allow Sarasota and Manatee counties to communicate via radio with state and federal agencies because P25 is a national standard. Because the system is not brand specific, the counties can utilize a variety of radio systems and still communicate, in the same way cell phones can make calls regardless of whether a phone is built by Motorola, Sprint or Verizon.
“You have a single platform, so you can develop a single protocol to use,” Miranda said. “It’s simple.”
Sarasota County, led on the project by Manager of Public Safety Communications Jerry Wheeler, is handling the procurement process. Miranda sits on a joint evaluation team and helped craft the interlocal agreement that spells out the interplay between the counties during procurement, implementation and post-installation of the system.
Although Miranda heard, when he started, that the counties didn’t play well together, he expects to see the same spirit of collaboration used to reach the interlocal agreement (a process that took about two years), continue.
“There was a lot of will and a lot of hard work on both sides,” Miranda said. “The team did a great job.”
A SHIFT TO PUBLIC-SECTOR WORK
Willie Miranda worked in radio technology in the private sector as owner of a two-way radio-communication business and as a consultant, until he retired in 2009.
Was he bored?
“Absolutely,” Miranda said, laughing.
So, he moved to Arizona for a public-sector job doing similar work, running the network for the P25 system for the city of Mesa.
“I wanted to give something back to the community,” Miranda said of shifting to public-sector work.
“I enjoy it — being in the private sector and then being on the other side,” Miranda said. “It gives you perspective.”
Miranda moved to Manatee County in 2009 to work for the county.
“Having learned how a regional network works has helped me a lot here,” Miranda said. “What steps we need to take first (and so on).”
About Willie Miranda
Willie Miranda blames his grandfather for his love of radios.
He earned his amateur radio license when he was just 12 years old.
“My grandfather was photographer, carpenter, electronics. He did everything. Once he entered me into the electronics world, that was it for me. I love the field.”
About 15 years ago, he gave up ham radio as a hobby to pursue cycling.
He also began bass fishing, frequently casting his rod in Lakewood Ranch’s lakes.
“I like to fish the ponds,” he said, smiling. “I could be a guide.”
By the numbers
9 — Number of communication towers to be located within each county (some modified, some new)
200 — Approximate height of most radio communication towers in Manatee County (range up to 260 feet)
3,500 — Approximate number of radios owned by Manatee County (excludes school district)
4,600 — Approximate number of radios owned by Sarasota County (includes school district)
Contact Pam Eubanks at email@example.com.
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