By Lohr McKinstry, Staff Writer
Sept. 23, 2002
Report: To overhaul radio system, Essex County must make millions in improvements
It will take a $3.5 million upgrade to bring the Essex County, N.Y., radio-communications system up to full coverage and modern standards, a consulting-firm says.
The upgrade would switch the county from VHF low band to VHF high band, a move that would require the purchase of new radios for most fire departments in the county.
It also calls for radio coverage improvements; additional radio channels; system enhancements such as digital scrambling and mobile data terminals; and a central dispatch point for the Enhanced-911 System when it goes online in about three years.
Robert Hamlin of Change Tac of Loudonville issued the report on the state of Essex County’s communications system.
“The report is our final report, with some of the things we found wrong with the county communications system, as well as recommendations,” Hamlin said.
The county paid about $33,000 for the study.
“As part of this recommendation, we are not going to have to build new tower sites,” Hamlin said.
“We are using existing sites so you don’t have to worry about the Adirondack Park Agency, at this time.”
The new system would be interoperable with the Statewide Wireless System for state agencies when that system is built in three or four years.
“We feel the best solution is a migration to a single countywide multiple-frequency system,” Hamlin said.
That would utilize mountaintop transmitter sites in Johnsburg, Moriah, Wilmington and Ticonderoga and maybe Blue Mountain Lake. Only Moriah, Wilmington and Ticonderoga are in Essex County.
“You would have a system that would work countywide,” Hamlin said.
The system would have 100-percent local and countywide coverage using 45- to 100-watt vehicular mobile radios and 70-percent coverage with hand-held 5-watt portables.
“It would be a complete replacement of what you have,” Hamlin said.
He said the system would start with no-coverage areas, such as Minerva and Newcomb, and expand to the rest of the county. It would take one to three years to complete.
The price is $475,000 for base stations; $225,000 for the 911 answering point; $290,000 for digital microwave equipment, $950,000 for tower-site upgrades; and $250,000 for radio consoles; for a total of $2,19 million.
In addition, fire departments, emergency medical services and county agencies would need 400 digital mobile radios, for $1.35 million.
The total cost would be $3.54 million. The county would have to go to bond for the project, county officials said.
The alternate plan would be to just upgrade county fire departments from low band to VHF high band. Ambulance services and the County Sheriff’s Department are already on high-band and would keep their existing radios.
“That would be less expensive in the long run to the county, but you couldn’t use the new enhancements that are coming: digital capabilities, mobile data capability,” Hamlin said.
The County Board of Supervisors has not made a decision yet, but Hamlin said he will attend the regular board meeting in October to answer questions.
“There’s a lot of work to be done on this. It’s not set in concrete,” County Public Safety Chairman Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield) said of the proposal.
The low-band fire frequencies now in use in Essex County have interference from cell phones and computers, County Emergency Services Director Raymond Thatcher said.
He said telephone-company T1 high-speed lines are also causing interference at the county’s Palmer Hill tower site in Lewis.
“The need is very, very pressing,” Thatcher said. “It’s going to get worse as other communications equipment is put into service throughout the county.”
“It’s a lot of money,” Morrow said. “But to me, it’s a bargain to get this county to 95-percent (radio) coverage.”
Lohr McKinstry can be reached by email: [email protected]
Copyright 2002, Plattsburgh Publishing Co., Plattsburgh, NY, Division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc., Campbell Hall, NY. All rights reserved. Republished with permission from the publisher.