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June 15, 2012

 

Grant sought to boost county radio upgrades

Funding would allow emergency communications network to tie into state, federal systems

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

In an attempt to secure $6 million in grant funding for Cortland County’s emergency communication upgrade, legislators are pursuing whether to join another consortium and upgrade the overall project at a cost of $1.1 million.
The Judiciary and Public Safety Committee endorsed the idea Thursday and the Legislature will vote on it June 28.
Information Technology Deputy Director Jack Hess told the committee that upgrading the $14 million project to enhance its ability to communicate with other frequencies and joining the Southern Tier East Regional Consortium will make the county more likely to get grant funding.
He hopes to get $6 million from a state interoperable communications grant available this year.
The deadline is July 15 and if the Legislature decides to go forward, Hess will gear the county’s application to stress the county’s system would make Cortland County a gateway county from the Pennsylvania border to Lake Ontario.
Since the county last year was awarded a $4 million U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant, Hess said the county must adjust the project somehow to apply for funding once more.
“We had a conversation with Senator (Jim) Seward after we explained what the grant was like and what we wanted to do, we were all agreeing we couldn’t go in with last year’s information ... and this gives our project a different goal,” Hess said.
This goal, in addition to interoperability and compliance with the Federal Communications Commission’s mandate that radio systems be upgraded by 2013, is to communicate with state and federal agencies.
The upgrade would entail installing components in seven towers to allow them to communicate with national radio frequencies used by the Federal Emergency Management Association and the FBI, for instance, as well as other frequencies besides UHF.
A tower in Virgil is the only tower that allows communication on other frequencies.
Hess said this covers about 60 percent of the county but the upgrade would guarantee coverage for about 95 percent of the county.
Hess stressed that the grant application does not commit the county to changing its project. If the county does not receive $1.1 million to cover the cost of the upgrade, it could decide not to make the changes.
Any money received above the cost of the upgrade would be used to offset the overall project cost.
The project is at the right point to adjust it, Hess said, since antennas could easily be added to towers which have not been built yet. Seven towers will be built.
Equipment could also be retrofitted to accommodate the change, depending on when the funding is awarded.
The grant awards should be announced in August but last year the county did not know it was the recipient until December.
Cortland is a member of the five-county Central New York Interoperability Consortium: Onondaga, Cortland, Madison, Cayuga and Oswego counties.
Consortiums define how member counties communicate with one another, for instance what channels to use, Hess said.

 

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