No More Delays: Northumberland County 911 Switch Nearly Complete

The federally mandated system, which has been delayed several times this year, replaces the outdated analog wide band system.

by Justin Strawser, The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pa. / May 31, 2017
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(TNS) - The cutover to the new digital narrow band 911 communication system in Northumberland County is expected to be completed this week, according to Northumberland County Commissioner Rick Shoch.

Shoch, the leader in charge of public safety departments, said the police were in the process of cutting over Tuesday and the fire department cutover was slated to begin at 8 a.m. this morning.

Russ Fellman, 911 coordinator, is working hard to ensure the transition runs smoothly during the cutover, Shoch said.

The federally mandated system, which has been delayed several times this year, replaces the outdated analog wide band system. It will increase communication capability for first responders across the county by adding new frequencies.

The delays were caused by a defective antenna, background noise on fire pages and other technical issues. Shoch said he's confident the system won't be delayed any further.

"It was a project that was left to languish during the last year of the past administration, and that set us back significantly in terms of a successful roll out," Shoch said. "It has taken a lot of hard work and a team effort by our 911 personnel to overcome that setback and bring the system online."

Mount Carmel Township Police Chief Brian Hollenbush and Mount Carmel Borough Police Chief Todd Owens both said the eastern end of the county has benefited from the cutover.

"On this end of the county, the older radios didn't work," Hollenbush said. "The 911 center has had to call me on my cell phone because the equipment was outdated and not functional. Today, I can hear the entire county clearly. It's great."

The clarity is amazing, Owens said.

"It's a great benefit," Owens said. "The fact that dispatchers can hear us now is huge. It's a great day for the county that this was put into service today. It's a lot of hard work behind the scenes, and today it's paying off."

Owens said the emergency button on the officers' radio will work now, which will allow officers in trouble to sound an alarm that 911 center dispatchers will be able to hear.

Hollenbush, also the fire marshal for the township, said he is also looking forward to the switchover for the fire departments on Wednesday.

"It's needed," Hollenbush said. "I'm ecstatic that Russ (Fellman) worked as hard as he did. I give him a thumbs up for bringing the system online. He did one heck of a job."

Sunbury Police Chief Tim Miller said the new system is a "work in progress."

"The benefits to the end user being our officers on the street will have to be proven as the system was designed to make our dispatchers' jobs a little easier," Miller said. "Our dispatchers have a difficult job gathering information and then getting it out there to the end users."

The new system will eliminate the need for a dispatcher to monitor numerous radio channels and thus be able to focus more on getting accurate information to the resources needed for a given emergency, he said.

"As police officers we are skeptics by nature and are resistant to change," Miller said. "I'm sure we will have to work out some kinks but we will work together to provide the best service possible for our communities."

When completed, the Motorola Solutions simulcast portable system will have a 95 percent coverage rate for the county and be able to better serve the northern tier, according to the county.

The county does not have the final bill yet, but the Motorola portion of the project is $8.1 million, according to Controller Christopher Grayson. This amount does not include the bill from county consultant Mission Critical Partners, of State College, and additional charges for site work, legal fees and structural analysis, he said.

The Federal Communications Commission, in 2005, ordered the upgrades across the nation in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

A press conference will be held later this week after the cutover is complete, Shoch said.


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