County takes out $17M emergency services loan
August 23, 2002
Montgomery County (Penn.) hopes to have an improved emergency radio system in place as early as next June.
And it can’t come early enough for Commissioners Chairman Michael D. Marino.
“Hopefully this will change a dangerous situation and prevent any police officer or emergency medical services person from going into a situation where they cannot communicate with the outside world,” said Marino.
Marino’s comments came as the commissioners this week signed off on a $17-million, 10-year loan, at an interest rate of 3.2 percent, through the Delaware Valley Regional Finance Authority for the project.
The loan will be paid back entirely by revenue generated by the county’s $1-a-month 911 surcharge on residential and business phones.
The surcharge generates about $7.2 million a year, with $5 million earmarked for the salaries and benefits of 911 dispatchers and the operational and maintenance costs of the system.
The county earlier this year awarded Motorola Inc. the $17-million contract to upgrade the county’s emergency dispatch radio system. Part of the upgrade is aimed at providing better in-building emergency radio service.
Signals from the county’s 800-megahertz radio system, installed more than five years ago, are not strong enough to penetrate major, strongly constructed buildings such as schools, shopping malls and even the county courthouse.
Law enforcement officers and other public safety officials, responding to emergency situations inside these types of structures, cannot use their radios to communicate with personnel outside.
This discovery was made in 1999 following the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., when two gun-toting, bomb-wielding teens went on a suicidal rampage.
Marino, who was the county district attorney at that time, subsequently brought the county’s law enforcement community and emergency services personnel together to conduct simulations of the Columbine incident to prepare a coordinated county response should something similar happen here.
These simulations were held at the Pottstown High School and the Wissahickon Middle School.
Following the discovery of the communications problem, the county put together a temporary solution involving the use of cell phones and a mobile communications center. Marino, who took office as a county commissioner in 2000, then decided to come up with a permanent solution.
The major pat of the upgrade involves increasing the number of towers used by the system by 11 towers, from nine to 20.
County Solicitor Richard D. Winters said he hopes to wrap up all of the acquisition and zoning work needed for the use of additional towers by the end of October. Only one tower is actually being purchased, he said. The county equipment will just be added to other towers, he added.
Motorola, which will test all of the equipment before it installs it, has until next November to have the upgraded system up and running, according to Winters. However, he said, he is hoping the work can be completed by next June.
All but three municipal police departments now use the county’s 800-megahertz system. Also on the system are the state police, 36 ambulance units and public safety personnel.
Once the upgrades are in place, the county can add the 92 fire companies that serve the county to the system. The fire companies now use about five different frequencies, which often prevent one fire company from “talking” with another fire company even when both are on the same site.
Margaret Gibbons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-272-2501 ext. 216.
(© 2002 The Times Herald, Norristown, Penn. All rights reserved. Republished with permission.)