November 23, 2010


County radio upgrades to cost less

911Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland County 911 Dispatch Center Coordinator Nick Wagner, right, chats with senior dispatcher Dave Tanner in the new dispatch area on the third floor of the Public Safety Building as workers in the background continue to fine-tune the system in this 2007 file photo. The county is in the process of updating its emergency communication system before a Jan. 1, 2013, federal mandate.

Staff Reporter

A plan to bring Cortland County into compliance with a federal mandate to change its radio frequency by 2013 could cost about $14 million, a less expensive option than the project’s originally anticipated cost of about $25 million, according to officials.
The county would bond for the project.
Motorola submitted the $14 million figure in early September in response to requests for proposals from the county, the cheapest of two options it offered, said Jack Hess, the county’s Information Technology deputy director.
Harris Communications also responded with a $20.3 million proposal.
Motorola will present the plan for county officials to consider at a special Legislative session Dec. 2. The Legislature would vote on the proposal at the regularly scheduled Dec. 16 session.
The Federal Communications Commission mandates all counties convert to narrowband by Jan. 1, 2013.
Narrow banding reduces the size of radio frequencies.
The county sought proposals that would not only fulfill this requirement but also allow county emergency responders to communicate with one another and provide 95 percent coverage countywide.
The upgrades would alleviate the communication breakdowns that currently occur because of lack of coverage and because agencies use different frequencies.
The county has a transmission tower in Virgil and a backup transmission tower in Solon, and frequencies are not always strong enough to reach the towers.
Motorola’s $14 million proposal to use UHF calls for eight towers to be built, which is fewer towers than other frequencies require, and therefore a less costly option.
The county will consider county-owned property in Preble, Lapeer and Taylor for three new tower sites.
Four sites will be shared antennas on existing commercial towers and one will be the existing Virgil tower.
The $14 million cost covers everything from new equipment purchases and installation, to tower siting and construction, Hess said.
The plan calls for a December 2012 completion date.
A $19.7 million option submitted by Motorola is more costly because it would require 12 transmission towers be erected and a different frequency to be used.
Deputy Fire Coordinator Kevin Whitney said he hopes the county will opt for Motorola’s less costly option.
Whitney said at first the county did not think there were enough frequencies available in the UHF bandwidth spectrum, but Motorola’s plan provides for UHF coverage and is advantageous because it is the least costly conversion.
Whitney said that having greater coverage throughout the county is crucial for emergency responders.
“Policemen ... there are areas they don’t have any ability to communicate with the 911 center where the dispatchers are,” he said.
Firefighters face similar problems with unreliable radio signals, a challenge that can interfere with the responder’s ability to best handle an emergency situation, Whitney said.
One example of where communication breakdown was problematic for emergency responders was the police discovery of a truck off Route 41A in Homer in October. Police found chemicals used for production of methamphetamine.
Whitney said the state police, Homer fire chief and Sheriff’s Department could not communicate with one another, with responders resorting to hand signals.
“The bottom line is the county has to do something now,” Whitney said, adding that simply making all the radio equipment able to accommodate narrowband would not be adequate without the addition of towers to transmit signals.

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