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New 911 center startup delayed

February 05, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WILLIAMSPORT -- Construction delays on Washington County's consolidated 911 center have pushed back the projected activation date for the county's new emergency communications system by two months to September, project officials said this week.

Finishing out the emergency communications project also could require more than $200,000 in additional funding, in part due to efforts to appease opponents of a proposed communications tower site, Washington County Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth said.

Renovations to the county's facilities on Elliott Parkway near Williamsport, which will house the new 911 center and serve as a hub for the new communications equipment, are about 85 percent complete, Kroboth told the Washington County Commissioners during a tour of the center Tuesday. The activation previously was scheduled for July.

Kroboth said the $27.8 million emergency communications project, which includes the 911 center as well as a new interoperable radio system and other upgrades, will need an additional $215,000 in fiscal year 2010. That cost will cover unanticipated project costs including land purchases for two of 10 radio system towers.

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The emergency communications project has been in the works for more than seven years and is intended to address deficiencies in the county's emergency communications system, Kroboth said. It has received more than $4.8 million in state and federal funding and about $576,000 from the City of Hagerstown and the county's towns. Local volunteer fire and EMS companies have contributed about $464,000 of their own grant money for equipment costs.

The shift to an interoperable radio system will allow fire, emergency services, Maryland State Police, the Washington County Sheriff's Department, municipal police and public works personnel to communicate directly with each other by radio.

In addition, the move to a consolidated 911 center will improve coordination between dispatchers for the Washington County Sheriff's Department, Hagerstown Police, Maryland State Police, and fire and emergency medical services, officials said. Currently, those agencies use four separate dispatch centers.

The two-story, 8,500 square-foot 911 center will make use of formerly vacant space in the Elliott Parkway facility, which also houses the county's Department of Water Quality.

The commissioners got a glimpse of the center's many bells and whistles during Tuesday's tour. In the dispatch room, desks for 12 dispatchers were arranged in pods and held new computer equipment. Six large suspended screens will be used to display maps of incidents, vehicle locations, traffic camera data, news channels and security camera feeds from both on-site and off. Rows of floor-to-ceiling electronic equipment hummed in a shelter out back.

The center includes a large downstairs room that can be divided in half for first-responder training classrooms or opened up for use as an emergency operations center. Upstairs, another classroom includes a dispatcher training station. The building also has offices for the county's fire and emergency services administrators, who currently work out of 33 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown.

"These people have lived in the basement since 1975, so they're actually going to see sunlight," Kroboth said.

One of the most involved aspects of the renovation was the extensive electrical grounding required to protect the center's multimillion-dollar electronic equipment, Kroboth said. The grounding work and other construction issues delayed the project and will result in overruns for the renovation contract, Kroboth said.

Another unexpected cost for the 911 center will be the purchase of a higher-capacity uninterrupted power supply (UPS), Kroboth said. The center will house more equipment than originally thought, so the UPS that was purchased does not have the capacity to support it, he said. That UPS will either be exchanged for the new one or moved to the county's backup 911 center at 33 W. Washington St., he said.

Funding for the renovation overruns and the new UPS is available from another section of the communications project that came in under budget, Kroboth said.

Other unexpected costs will require additional funding in next fiscal year's Capital Improvement Plan, Kroboth said.

One of those costs was the purchase of 5 acres of land with an existing tower on Quirauk Mountain after a previous deal with a military facility fell through, Kroboth said.

Project officials also are preparing for a potential land purchase for the South County tower, he said. The county originally proposed building a tower on county-owned land near the intersection of Sandy Hook and Keep Tryst roads to improve radio reception in the southern part of the county. The National Park Service and numerous citizen groups protested that a tower in that location would tarnish the area's viewshed, so the county is considering an alternative site offered by a private land owner, Kroboth said.

A public hearing on the new site will be scheduled once testing on that site is complete, said Pete Loewenheim, the county's communications maintenance manager.

The South County tower might not be built by the time the system goes online in September, Kroboth said.

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