A Lot Can Go Wrong With an LMR System Upgrade or Replacement — Part Two
Posted on September 28, 2022 by Nick Falgiatore
Part one of this blog series identified a series of questions that must be contemplated by any agency that is considering a land mobile radio (LMR) system upgrade or replacement project.
All of these questions need to be answered, ideally before the permitting process begins. If they’re not, this process could turn into a slog, and the very real prospect exists that the permits needed to advance the project will not be approved. As a rule, tower projects typically are easy to execute from a technical perspective. But whether the project comes to fruition often depends on how many roadblocks exist at the preferred site(s), and how much time, effort, and cost will be required to mitigate them. These issues are especially exacerbated in urban areas, where there are fewer locations suitable for constructing radio towers, greater public opposition, and more administrative red tape.
To make the permitting process go smoother, an effective strategy is to make it easier for government officials to say “yes.” Here’s what I mean. Instead of presenting a single tower site for approval, submit several options that will meet your coverage requirements if that’s possible. It is unlikely that all will be rejected. But if a specific tower site is required, input from the emergency response agencies that use the LMR system will prove invaluable. When such agencies state that only one site will deliver the system performance that they need to save citizen lives and to keep emergency personnel safer in the performance of their duties, it usually is much more difficult for government officials to say “no.”
The site approval and permitting process can be very protracted and often resembles a tangled web. Here’s just one example. One of our clients wanted to build a new radio tower to enhance system performance. Fortuitously, the county owned a parcel of land in the center of a particular city that was ideal for this purpose. Despite this, the city refused to approve the site location, largely due to the objections raised by numerous homeowner associations.
As a result, meetings were held with elected officials and nearby homeowners to educate them regarding the merits of the project — specifically why the selected site location made the most sense — and to answer their questions. They were unmoved. So, the county informed the city that it would pursue the upgrade project without that site. Then something interesting happened that turned the tide — the city’s emergency responders began to experience radio performance issues, which led agency officials to pressure the city to do something about it.
After some due diligence, the city discovered that addressing the issues would be cost prohibitive. So, it turned back to the county for assistance — and in the process approved the site that originally had been sought. In this case, input from the emergency response community paid dividends.
Even when the preferred site is approved, things can go awry. A client had access to a large parcel of county-owned land where a tower could be built, but the tower needed to be placed where it would provide adequate fall-zone protection to nearby homes. The only location on the parcel where the fall-zone criteria were met placed the tower in the middle of a retention pond. So, the Army Corps of Engineers had to get involved to ensure that there were no wetlands or other environmental issues. Then the pond had to be drained and refilled. Finally, the tower had to be built on a platform because the location was in a flood plain. All of this added considerable cost to the project.
In another instance, a client wanted to upgrade an existing tower site. The problem was that, in the time since the site was built, industry standards regarding wind-loading had changed. As a result, the tower foundation had to be reinforced, which added $1.3 million to the project’s cost. At another site, the soil composition proved to be unsuitable, so the soil was removed and replaced with soil that was suitable, adding several hundred thousand dollars to the cost.
A key lesson learned from these experiences is to have a contingency plan in case a selected tower site doesn’t work out, as well as a contingency budget to cover unexpected costs. Even more important, work with an independent, vendor-agnostic consultant that can help you plan your project, mitigate unexpected obstacles, manage costs, guide the procurement and implementation, and — most important — bring the project to a successful conclusion. We would love the chance to be your consultant — please reach out.
Nick Falgiatore is an MCP senior technology specialist. Email him at NickFalgiatore@MissionCriticalPartners.com.