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Franklin Co. OKs millions for radio system contracts

June 23, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Franklin County Board of Commissioners on Thursday approved more than $3.7 million in contracts for a new public safety radio system that eventually will allow all emergency responders to talk to each other on UHF frequencies.

Motorola received the largest contract, $2.7 million to provide the county with an integrated UHF radio system that will require transmitting and receiving sites around the county, said Jerry Flasher, the county's director of emergency services.

Alcatel of Plano, Texas, was awarded a $674,000 contract to provide a digital microwave system to connect all of the UHF sites. JG Contracting Co. of Pittsburgh was given a site development contract of $369,000 for a new tower and communications shed on Clark's Knob in Letterkenny Township.

"The existing tower is at or above capacity," said Chuck Nhot of L. Robert Kimball Associates, which is acting as consultant to the county on the radio project. At 250 to 300 feet in height, he said the new tower will be "a very significant piece of steel."

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In 2004, the board of commissioners gave the go-ahead for a $39 million bond issue that included money for a new $30 million prison, $5 million for land preservation and $4 million for the new radio system. By changing over to a UHF system, the county will be able to provide "interoperability" for police, fire, ambulance and municipal communications, Flasher said.

Police and medical services already are using UHF radio systems, but many fire companies still are using low-band radios, Flasher said. The different radio systems complicate communications between agencies and departments, he said.

"Now, in day-to-day operations, they cannot speak to each other" directly, Flasher said. The change in the county radio system will require those fire companies and other agencies still using low-band frequencies to switch their systems to become compatible, he said.

"There's a variety of funding sources" for converting to the new system, he said.

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security provided a $108,737 grant to the New Franklin Fire Co. to assist it in changing over its radio system, said Tory Mazzola of U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster's office. Earlier this month, Shuster, R-Pa., announced another federal grant of $23,275 for the county's radio dispatch communications interoperability project.

The inability of police, fire, ambulance and other local, federal and state first responders to communicate effectively became an issue after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mazzola said.

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