As with most areas of life in today’s world, the Public Sector of radio communications revolves around the almighty dollar. What you can do is largely dependent on what you afford, and what you can afford is largely dependent on what kind of funding you receive. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, far too many communications operations are finding themselves choosing between necessary projects and necessary personnel. Over the past few years however, MCM has noticed a growing number of communications shops that are saying “good-bye” to the notion of limited funding. By implementing the right tools and processes, communications shops are changing from government-funded entities to revenue generating operations. By charging for the services they provide, they are able to offset budget shortfalls. This allows them to hire the personnel they need and take on projects that keep them on the cutting edge through innovative technology. One shining example of a communications operation changing from government-funded to self-funded is the Alabama Regional Communications System (ARCS).
The ARCS is responsible for maintaining the Calhoun-Talladega 800 MHz communications system. Developed as a safety precaution during the federally mandated destruction of chemical weapons at the nearby Anniston Army Depot, the Calhoun-Talladega 800 MHz System was funded as part of the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP). The system went live in 1998 and quickly became the primary means of two-way communications for Public-Safety agencies throughout the four-county coverage area. In September 2011 however, the funding associated with the CSEPP expired. Despite the fact that the community had become completely dependent upon the capabilities of the system, the plug would be pulled unless another way of paying for the project was identified.
In preparation for the end of CSEPP grant funding, the Calhoun County and Talladega County Commissions began to explore strategies that would allow for continued service and operation of the existing communications system. With the support of FEMA, elected officials, consulting firms, and the users of the system, an exploratory committee proposed a plan that would allow the users to take ownership of the system. A few months later, a board comprised of officials from both Talladega and Calhoun Counties met and officially took over the system, naming it the Alabama Regional Communications System, or ARCS.
With the system now under their control, the ARCS needed to figure out the best way to operate, maintain, and fund a self-sustaining communications operation. They began by tapping Kevin Jenkins to act as System Manager. Right from the start, Mr. Jenkins knew that the tools previously used to manage the system would not allow the ARCS to perform at the level required to succeed. Mr. Jenkins would need to run the operation as a business, and the functionality of the current tools simply wouldn’t allow it. The solution would have to be more than simply a software application. With responsibilities now ranging from asset and work order management to purchasing and external billing, the solution would need to be totally comprehensive; one that could handle every aspect of the operation. At first, it seemed like the only way to handle the new responsibilities would be to combine several different applications, then forge processes permitting them to work together to meet the complete need. That was until Mr. Jenkins came across an application that was designed to handle the exact situation he was in. That solution was MCM’s CommSHOP 360º.
On April 1, 2012, the ARCS began independently managing the Calhoun-Talladega 800MHz system on behalf of the participating users. Through CommSHOP 360⁰, the ARCS is able to fully fund itself by collecting fees from users of the “800 MHz” system and, in turn, provides operations, maintenance, and improvement of the communications infrastructure. Today, the system continues to provide nearly 100 percent of the mission-critical and governmental communications needs throughout the four county coverage area. With work orders, inventory, purchasing, asset tracking, and billing all being managed by a single integrated solution, Kevin Jenkins can look at his system everyday and be sure he is getting the most out of his communications investment.
Click HERE for a complete overview of the ARCS.