INDIANA COUNTY: Upgrade to radio network almost finished, officials say
January 09, 2014 11:00 AM

Indiana County’s upgraded public safety radio network is nearing completion and initial field tests show it is exceeding its “95-95” goal of enabling emergency responders to communicate outdoors over hand-held radios 95 percent of the time across 95 percent of the county’s land mass.

“We’re moving forward” with the system enhancements, Tom Stutzman, director of Indiana County’s Emergency Management Agency, told the county commissioners Wednesday. “We’re programming radios. We’re getting them out” to emergency responder agencies to use.

Stutzman said the new system’s radio equipment is in use with the county sheriff’s department and so far deputies — who travel all over the county — report radio coverage approaching 100 percent using the new equipment.

Previously, emergency responders could communicate by hand-held radios about 60 percent of the time over 65 percent of the county’s land area.

Eventually the new system and its upgraded components will be used by police, firefighters, ambulance paramedics and EMA first responders.

Early in the planning stages the commissioners decided to build additional capacity for growth into the system and install fiber-optic cable as part of the system. Broadening the scope of the system will allow more county agencies to use the network and some services the county now pays for, such as telephone and Internet access, can be delivered over the county’s fiber-optic network and save the county money and may become a revenue-generator.

Stutzman said Wednesday EMA officials are waiting on the completion of a two-mile section of fiber-optic line being installed in an area generally along Old Route 119 near Coral, Graceton and Josephine.

“The fiber is the backbone that connects it all together,” Stutzman said. Completing the fiber-optic portion of the project has fallen one year behind schedule because it has taken longer than anticipated to reach lease agreements with some of the many utility companies that own poles where the fiber-optic cable is being strung.

Stutzman anticipates the fiber-optic line will be completed in February.

In addition to improving interoperability — the capability of one radio system to allow communications with another system — the upgrade will satisfy a Federal Communications Commission requirement for “narrowbanding,” intended to increase the available spectrum in the VHF and UHF land mobile radio bands.

Under that requirement, Indiana County’s improved radio network was to be operational by last September. Following the federal government’s shutdown last October, the county requested an extension of the deadline until the end of March. Stutzman said the FCC has not responded to the county’s extension request.

“We’re on track” to complete the system, Stutzman said, but added he could not project a date when the county can switch entirely over to the new system.

“The end date is still fluid,” he said.

The first studies on the need to improve the county’s emergency radio network were done in 2005. An original contract with Motorola to furnish radios and tower site equipment was $7.4 million. Change orders later increased Motorola’s contract to $8.8 million, but on Wednesday another change order for the project rolled Motorola’s contract back to $8.5 million because some parts will not be needed.

Stutzman said the total price tag for the new radio network is now expected to be between $16.8 million and $17.2 million.

In another emergency communications item Wednesday, the commissioners approved EMA transferring two spare EMA mobile radios and two spare portable radios to the Clymer Borough Police Department. Under the lease-to-own agreement, Clymer will pay the county $2,331 per year for five years for the radios that will operate as part of the county’s upgraded public safety network.

“The capital cost to them would have been extraordinary” if the Clymer PD had purchased the radios on its own, Stutzman said.

Other municipalities in the county are considering similar purchases of spare radios EMA acquired at lower prices by buying in quantity, he said.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, commission Chairman Rodney Ruddock said he will travel to Harrisburg next week as one of several representatives of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania to present to Gov. Tom Corbett and his staff the association’s legislative priorities.

“We try to alert the legislative team where our focus is so they can be as supportive as possible,” Ruddock said.

Ruddock is chairman of the association’s Community and Economic Development Committee.

The commissioners also approved a maintenance agreement that will keep the Pennsylvania Statewide Automated Victim Information Notification system in operation in the county.

PA SAVIN is a free, confidential system for alerting crime victims when there is a change in the custody status of a criminal offender. The change may involve a release from custody, a transfer to another jail or an escape. The notification is nearly instantaneous through an automated telephone message.

PA SAVIN has been in use in Indiana County since 2008 and is coordinated through the county district attorney’s office.

The commissioners approved nearly two dozen appointments and reappointments to various authorities, boards and commissions, and reappointed Janis Long as chairwoman of the Farmland Preservation Board.

And they proclaimed January as Dignity and Respect Month in the county, urging mutual respect for and acceptance of all people.

The county courthouse will be closed Jan. 20 in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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