Penn. County to Launch Next-Gen 9-1-1 Radio System
Erie Times-News, Pa.
May 11—Erie County's $23.2 million next-generation public radio system project is taking shape.
Work ramped up this past week on the construction of eight new communication towers and at the sites of nine existing towers. Those towers, scattered throughout Erie County, are part of an intricate infrastructure upgrade that will improve communication between emergency responders, their counterparts in neighboring communities and dispatchers.
"They are working at a breakneck pace," Public Safety Director John Grappy said of local contractors Perry Construction Co. and Keystone Electric.
The project marks what public safety officials believe is a long-overdue transition to a digital platform. Safety forces now operate on a patchwork of frequencies, from low-band to UHF and VHF.
Remediation work started in April at an existing tower site on Sharp Road in Waterford. Crews are improving the access road and an equipment shelter at the site, among other things. Land was drilled this week for a concrete pad for a new tower behind Fairview Volunteer Fire Department Station 53 on West Lake Road. Work at other tower sites in Harborcreek Township, Greene Township and Springfield Township is also ongoing. Tower construction is required to be complete by the end of July.
Grappy said the project remains $3.2 million under budget from original projections.
Grappy and officials from the Erie County Department of Public Safety, project consultant MCM Consulting group, as well as engineers, IT staff and others traveled to E.F. Johnson Technologies in Irving, Texas, in February to test the system.
E.F. Johnson is the manufacturer of the mobile and portable radios that are being installed in emergency vehicles and provided to police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
"They staged the actual system at every tower site on the factory floor," Grappy said. "E.F. Johnson functionally tested the new radio system to ensure all the requirements and specifications that Erie County set forth had been met. That was a successful test."
The equipment was shipped to Erie County in March.
In October, first responders from 20 police, fire and EMS agencies were equipped with the mobile and portable devices. Those digital devices are backward-compatible, meaning they can function on the UHF or analog frequency that many agencies still use until the infrastructure is in place for the digital transition.
"They'll work on the new radio system to be implemented later this year on a digital trunk system, but they'll also work on an analog mode, which is the system they use today," Grappy said.
Earlier this year, members of East Erie County Emergency Communications' board of directors voted to dissolve its emergency dispatch operations after 27 years and use the county's new system starting in 2019. It will shift its focus from emergency dispatch duties to emergency medical services.
The move means that the next-generation radio system will cover virtually all of Erie County.
As part of the project, EmergyCare received more than 40 mobile radios, which are now mounted inside ambulances and other emergency vehicles. And this week it started distributing about 90 portable, or handheld, radios to EMTs, paramedics and supervisors.
"Not only will it improve our day-to-day communication—it will be crisper, clearer, more range—but now we'll be able to talk to other agencies easier," EmergyCare Executive Director Bill Hagerty said. "If we're dispatched on a multi-agency response, the county can put us on our own group just for that response so we don't have to fight with other radio traffic."