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Aging radio system on Franklin County's to-do list

March 22, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Upgrading the aging radio communications system for Franklin County will likely mean changes for most of the county's other 22 municipalities, according to Jerry Flasher, the county's director of emergency services.

At a municipal summit Thursday, Flasher said the county has hired a firm to assess its aging low-band radio communications system, including transmission equipment on towers located in the northern end of the county and just south of the Pennsylvania border in Maryland.

Besides the fact that there are now more technically advanced systems that provide better coverage, he said it is increasingly difficult to get replacement parts for what he called an "antiquated" system that has not been upgraded since the 1970s.

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Phasing out that system "will affect every customer and client," Flasher said. Among more than 100 users are 22 municipalities, 25 fire companies, 10 police departments and 15 emergency medical services, Flasher said.

With a terrain that varies from relatively flat in the south east to mountainous in the northwest, there are problems with transmission and reception, said James Salvaggio, a State College, Pa., consultant with L. Robert Kimball & Associates.

"The coverage for some people is good, for some not so good. Some probably don't have any," Salvaggio said Thursday. He said more transmission sites likely will be needed to cover those gaps when the system is modernized.

The assessment will look at the 911 telephone system, computer-aided dispatching, the tower sites and their microwave links to the courthouse, compatibility with surrounding counties, staffing needs and building requirements, he said.

Requests for proposals could be ready by September, but Salvaggio said there could be an overlap of several years while old equipment is phased out and new equipment installed.

While the existing county radio system is old, Flasher said other agencies within the county have upgraded their systems. Some police departments and municipalities, for example, have gone to UHF systems that use repeaters to convert radio communications back to the low-band frequency.

That has resulted in a "fragmented system" where some agencies are limited in their ability to communicate with each other, he said.

The change over could result in many of the boroughs, townships and police, fire and ambulance groups having to purchase new equipment.

"You're talking about a lot of radios," Washington Township Manager Mike Christopher remarked. He suggested the county and local governments try and work out a joint purchasing agreement to lessen the impact of having to buy new radios, base stations and other equipment.

Flasher said he cannot yet put a dollar figure on the modernization.

"We won't know until the assessment is completed and we know what our needs are," he said.

Thursday's summit brought scores of state, county and municipal officials to discuss a wide range of issues, including homeland security and local efforts to form citizens emergency response teams, the county court system, soaring health-care premiums and new state building code requirements.

"One of the most important things going on here is what's happening over there," G. Warren Elliott, chairman of the board of county commissioners said during a break in the summit, indicating conversations between municipal officials.

Elliott said the summit brought together a broader representation of officials than the county's monthly Council of Governments meetings.

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