Fire Chief wants to stay ahead of tech failures



As preparations continue for the construction of the fire district’s second station, it was voted Monday that the installation and maintenance of communications technology, such as security and phone systems, should be done in-house.

Fire Chief Anthony Lincoln said that the change would not only be more practical, but cost-saving as well.

The alternative would be for the district to hire a third party contractor to plan and install the digital infrastructure.

Now local Liberty Hill business HK Computers, which already has a contract to provide IT work for the district, will work with Lincoln and other fire administrators on these systems at the new station.

The issue was one of several addressed during a regular meeting for the Williamson County Emergency Services District #4’s Board of Commissioners Monday.

According to a document provided by the station, the IT portion of the project includes its telephones, station security, computer systems, station paging systems, and all communication connections between the upcoming station and the existing one in Liberty Hill.

A next step toward the station’s construction will be to officially sign a contract with Saber, the firm selected by the district to be the project’s Construction Manager At Risk. The station is slated to be open by the end of next year.

The Santa Rita station will be built near the intersection of Ronald Reagan Boulevard and the Santa Rita Ranch residential subdivision. It will cover 40 percent of WCESD #4.

Lincoln said that given the inevitability of technological problems, being familiar with the systems that allow communications between the stations would be advantageous in the event that they fail.

“I just have a nightmare about it not working, the [security] locks not working,” Lincoln said. “We’re gonna lose IT connection, and so many of our systems are IT based.”

Additionally, the change would also reduce costs for some items.

Drops, the connection outlets in walls that typically provide a user with ethernet and phone ports, are one example. Lincoln said that the cost of installing one could see as much as a $75 reduction from a $175 cost if they use in-house services.

Keeping design more tightly knit to what is needed can also help, Lincoln said. Current plans for the building called for “six drops in a room where we only needed two.”

Commissioner Keith Bright questioned the example, saying that “being in IT for 30 years, don’t skimp on the drops.” An unanticipated increase in the amount of printers or other network nodes needed could prove a problem in the future, he said.

Lincoln said that, the example aside, the larger point is that he and other administrators should work closely with their existing IT provider to custom tailor the communication systems. Bright agreed.

“If you like the relationship you have with your IT provider, then I say do it,” he said.

The motion passed unanimously.

Also discussed at the meeting was the final treasurer report for the fiscal year 2016-2017, which ended in September.

Expenditures for the year were roughly 83 percent of what was budgeted, said the Chief. The shortfall is attributed to better than expected costs, and also to some projects that have been rolled over into the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Lincoln said that the unspent $200,000-$300,000 is still retained by the district to spend this year.

Firefighters at the station in Liberty Hill had an average response time of 6 minutes 55 seconds for the entire district in September, shaving 23 seconds off their August average.

Response times will be even quicker, Lincoln said, once the Santa Rita station is up and running. He added that the temporary station the district is working toward could potentially bring those reductions on even earlier.