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State wants to use fire tower to boost emergency signals

June 01, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

BLUE RIDGE SUMMIT, Pa. - Franklin County, Pa., is nearly capable of using all the features of a statewide digital two-way radio system designed to allow for easy communication between the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and 22 other state agencies, state employees said.

A legislative mandate required that 95 percent of the county have coverage before the system goes fully operational, said John Nally, the project engineer looking to install antennas on a fire tower near Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

That mandate later was modified to call for coverage on 95 percent of a county's roads, Nally said. Franklin County is about 94 percent covered and will gain an additional .7 percent with the tower, he said.

"This site is a high-priority need for us. ... With the valleys you have here, it's a very big challenge" to get full coverage, Frank Moore, from the Governor's Office of Administration, told the Washington Township (Pa.) Supervisors on Wednesday.

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Troopers across Pennsylvania are using the system to access data on computer terminals in their patrol cruisers, Moore said.

State police in Lancaster County, Pa., are using all the functions of the system, and about one-fourth of the 67 counties have reached the mark of 95 percent coverage, Nally said.

The township supervisors asked Nally and Moore to make improvements to the fire tower, especially those affecting the safety of workers climbing the stairs.

"It could be potentially dangerous. You don't want (a worker) falling off any more than we do," Township Manager Mike Christopher said after presenting Nally and Moore with a list of requests like fixing stair treads and landings.

The pair said they'd take the request back to their supervisors.

The fire tower would allow for coverage in valleys using two 53-inch aluminum panels and a microwave 39 inches in diameter. Precautions will be taken to ensure the signals travel exclusively east and west, Nally and Moore said.

"We have to be careful how we aim our antennas, so we don't interfere with anyone in Maryland," Nally said.

The state will invest $239 million for the infrastructure of the 800-MHz system, he said. The project, launched in 1996, provides for use by local governments, according to www.radio.state.pa.us.

Moore said, as an example, that the radios will allow PennDOT workers to report vehicle accidents they witness directly to state troopers. When fully implemented, a trooper working near Washington Township could talk directly to one in Erie, Pa., he said.

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