The City of Amarillo has implemented a communications system officials said has greatly enhanced the needs of first responders while also providing them with essential protection.

During Tuesday’s regular city council meeting Assistant City Manager Kevin Starbuck delivered a presentation espousing the benefits of the Nexgen Radio Communications System, which replaced the Legacy System designed 30 years ago.

“There was a distinct need to improve,” he said with regard to a project that took five years to come to fruition. “We had an incident that was characteristic of what our responders were dealing with. A female police officer was called to a domestic violence situation, gets out of her vehicle, confronts the suspect and is immediately assaulted. And in the course of that fight, she reached for the emergency button on her radio, only to hear it does not reach the dispatcher or fellow responders. Fortunately, responders were on their way to back her up, but she was placed in a compromised position and her safety put was at risk.”

Starbuck, who referenced his brother is a K-9 police Corporal in Vancouver, Washington, and has a sister serving as an Assistant Fire Chief in Clark County, Washington, said he took on the project with the intent of protecting the City’s first responders. Amarillo police and fire, Animal Management and Welfare, the Amarillo Fire Marshal’s Office and the Office of Emergency Management are utilizing the system presently.

“This project has been a passion of mine since coming to the City,” Starbuck, who was Amarillo’s emergency manager for 20 years, said. “The basic design of the Legacy system was designed over 30 years ago. It was pieced together with a tight budget over the years and provided the services that it could, but it had just reached its breaking point. That was exacerbated in 2013, when the FCC, in their infinite wisdom, mandated narrow banding across the country.”

Starbuck said once forced to convert to a narrow communication band, it shrank the communication system’s coverage pattern, created interference issues and challenges with technology and created a gap in keeping up with the City’s ability to provide services to responders.

“With that, we sat down and visited with leadership and made sure we understood there was a need to improve and we have done that,” he said.

An estimated $18.1 million would be needed to implement the new system and meet the needs to address the public safety concerns, officials said, with $14 million of that allotment earmarked for system infrastructure and $4.1 for non-public safety requirements.

“As we built the budget, $14 million was pushed forward via the capital improvement project funded by Certificates of Obligation issued by the previous council and an additional $4.1 million was included in Proposition 3 that did not pass two years ago,” Starbuck said. “With the money that was made available, the City put out a Request for Proposal, with two vendors competing for the project and we’re pleased to continue our partnership with Motorola Solutions. They won the bid and the total project cost came in a $10.6 million, which included the entire system, plus years two through five of maintenance.”

Starbuck said partnerships have been formulated with both Potter and Randall County with regard to the Nexgen system, in addition to links with Northwest Texas Hospital, BSA Hospital, VA Hospital, Amarillo College and Amarillo Independent School District.

“Every one of them will be hosted on our system,” he said. “If we were to have a situation in the hospital with an active shooter or simply a disaster where we have a mass casualty event, responders would have the ability to communicate on the same system they are using today with those in the hospital.”

Officials said other benefits of the Nexgen system include:


Digital voice capabilities

GPS tracking, which officials said allows dispatch consoles to pinpoint the location of an emergency responder to be communicated to fellow officers

Cellular capabilities to allow for mobiles device monitoring

Microwave / Fiber data networks

Over-the-Air programming

WAVE System cellular interoperability

Tower camera systems

With regard to subscriber radios, Starbuck said there are currently 420 mobile radios being utilized, in addition to 734 portable radios and 16 primary and 10 backup dispatch consoles. He said if non-public safety communication is approved for funding, they will receive 560 mobile radios and 200 portable radios.

“We thank you for the work you have done and for leading the team,” Mayor Ginger Nelson said to Starbuck. “It’s been a long time coming and there were a lot of conversations. We always appreciate when projects come in under budget and do the things we need them to do.”