Luzerne County’s long-awaited new 911 emergency radio communications system is expected to be operational by July 1 if all construction, installation and testing is completed on schedule, the division chief of county interim operational services, Fred Rosencrans, to council last week.
Rosencrans said he has been working with council members since 2016 to advance and complete the $23.16 million project.
The project’s addition of emergency communications towers and new satellite dishes and microwave antennas will address spotty or no radio coverage in parts of the 980-square-mile, largely mountainous county, he said. .
It is designed to provide 95% emergency radio coverage across the entire county, including remote areas and the ground floors of structures in urban and suburban communities, he said.
The system will deliver a minimum audio quality of 3.4, which is the industry standard, Rosencrans said.
According to Rosencrans, this means that busy first responders won’t have to repeat messages during radio transmissions and urgently ask dispatchers, “Can you hear me now?” »
Motorola Solutions Inc. was awarded the contract for the radio system. Other companies were selected through a public procurement process to build and upgrade towers and supply and install the licensed microwave system.
Emergency responders will swap analog radios for digital radios to exchange messages – including thousands of mobile and portable radios the county has purchased for police, fire and emergency medical services at a cost of over of $8 million, officials said.
The system will allow two simultaneous conversations on one channel and increase capacity, in part by using idle channels.
“So basically we’re now taking patchworks from radio channels and broadcasting to 19 sites across the county when we go live on this new system,” he told the board.
Public school districts will also receive mobile radios with a panic button as part of the county’s upgrade, allowing school officials to instantly send a message in the event of an emergency, he said. he declares.
Replacing outdated consoles that 911 dispatchers use to speak with responders in the field is also part of the project.
All equipment and components will be tagged and tracked through an asset management system, he added.
As part of the project, the county added a new emergency communications tower off Harris Pond Road in Ross Township to increase emergency radio coverage in the Back Mountain. The state Fish and Boat Commission agreed to a no-cost lease for the county’s use of the site.
Four existing towers had to be replaced because the old ones were not structurally equipped to support the new equipment to wind and ice load standards, he said.
County is moving from 2-foot microwave dishes to 6-foot dishes, Rosencrans said. Alternate towers are at Freeland, Mountain Top, the Campbell’s Ledge area in Duryea, and the Emergency Management Agency in Wilkes-Barre.
Other tower sites required additional preparatory work, including electrical corrective measures such as grounding, he said.
There are 19 tower sites in total.
The project is expected to cost $23.16 million, Rosencrans said.
The council had allocated $1 million for the project, then voted to borrow an additional $19.7 million to help fund it in October 2019, drawing praise from fire chiefs and other emergency responders attending meetings at that time to express their support for the project.
Additional funding came from $1.576 million in state grants.
Rosencrans said 911 funding covered the difference, meaning he didn’t have to seek additional funds or borrow from the county to cover basic project costs.
The county council-approved contract with Motorola also locked in additional annual maintenance costs over 20 years, but officials said these would be covered through the general fund’s annual budget process.
During last week’s presentation, County Councilman Kevin Lescavage, who took office in January, said he wants to organize a committee to review the project. He added that he was “100% behind 911”.
“It’s a big expense for the county, and I just want to make sure we get everything we paid for,” Lescavage said.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Rosencrans said of the review.
Councilman LeeAnn McDermott asked Rosencrans about her pending request for $3 million of the county’s remaining $99.6 million in U.S. federal bailout funding to expand the project.
Rosencrans said he was asking $1.6 million for a feature that would allow 911 center personnel to remotely connect to the more than 4,000 emergency radios in the field so they don’t have to. physically hold to complete software, firmware, and other updates as part of initial programming and ongoing maintenance. Two 911 employees — one part-time — handle the programming, and the hands-free feature will save time, he said.
American Rescue’s other request is for $1.4 million to add functionality that will transmit GPS coordinates of responders, providing their current location as they transmit or communicate on the new system. Because it will improve responder safety, location identification was one of the most requested items when 911 held training and discussion sessions with outside agencies in January, he said. .
Both purchases fall within American Rescue’s funding guidelines, Rosencrans said.
Features were removed from the original project contract to stay within budget, he said.
Councilman Robert Schnee thanked Rosencrans for “the great job you are doing” with the project.
After the conversion, the system will encrypt police channels for officer safety at the request of the Luzerne County Police Chiefs Association, though fire and EMS channels are likely not encrypted, officials said. responsible.
Rosencrans’ presentation is posted with the agenda for the March 8 council meeting on luzernecounty.org. Project details are posted on www.LuzerneP25.org.