The switch from an old, obsolete analog emergency radio system to a new digital system with an increase in coverage and capabilities is expected to happen in the State College area just in time for State Patty’s Day.
Centre County officials are working diligently to have the new 911 radio system in place for police with State College Borough, Penn State University, Patton Township, Ferguson Township, Spring Township and Bellefonte Borough as all of these agencies will work together during the March 1 event that draws thousands to the area.
“We can do it. We’re comfortable it will work. It’s just going to be tricky,” says 911 Emergency Communications Director Daniel Tancibok.
The radio system is critical as it is the system the 911 Communications Center uses to dispatch police, fire, EMS and public works crews to emergencies in the county. It is also the system emergency responders use to communicate with each other during an emergency.
The new system will create an easier, more efficient means of communication as all police, EMS, fire and pubic works crews will be operating on the same radio system. That means they can easily communicate with each other. That’s not the case under the current analog system.
“It’s going to make it a lot more efficient, especially in a major emergency,” says Tancibok.
The county was finishing up testing on the new system Friday for the State College area. Next, communications staff will program all police portable and mobile radios. Then, officials will start transferring Penn State police over to the new system.
Officials are gradually implementing the new system throughout the county. Penn State police are expected to be operating under the digital system before THON, which starts Feb. 21.
In October, officials tested Centre County’s new 911 radio system and found it exceeded expectations and will cover a larger portion of the county compared to the current system. The team found that the coverage was poor only in very few non-populated game lands and forested areas.
Four teams covered more than 4,800 grid blocks, each one-half mile by one-half mile using a computer automated system and portable radios to test the system. The teams were able to access more than 3,200 grids.
Officials said the teams covered a statistically sufficient area to verify coverage. The results showed that the system exceeded coverage obligations with Motorola, which is to provide 95 percent of reliability in 90 percent of the county.
As part of the $18 million project, the county installed microwave equipment designed by Motorola at 19 radio tower sites throughout the county, an increase from 13 under the current system. The tower site shelters were also upgraded from wood to precast concrete for security and environmental protection. The towers are located throughout the county and are used to dispatch communication between the 911 Center and responders.
Full operation of the digital system is expected to happen by June.
Additionally, last year the 9-1-1 Communications Center and Emergency Management moved to the 9,000 square-foot ground floor of the Willowbank Building. The $2 million project provides emergency services with about 2,000 more square feet.
The county also continues to move forward with upgrades to a digital emergency communications system. Overall, the new emergency communications system will cost about $12 million.