ALBANY — Area counties will get millions of dollars to upgrade their emergency radio systems through state grants funded by cellphone surcharges.
The state on Wednesday announced the 2022 distribution of the annual funding, which is designed to improve public safety communications networks within and between agencies and jurisdictions.
The 57 counties and New York City will receive a combined $100 million — $90 million under the Statewide Interoperable Communications Grant program, for large-scale projects, and $10 million under the Public Safety Answering Point program, to support day-to-day operations of public safety communications centers.
Locally, the 2022 awards break down this way:
Albany County — $2,365,306 / $220,092
Fulton County — $993,962 / $177,041
Montgomery County — $740,231 / $211,150
Rensselaer County — $1,451,319 / $168,104
Saratoga County — $1,426,723 / $118,764
Schenectady County — $1,197,673 / $178,688
Schoharie County — $935,567 / $108,584
“This funding is critical to strengthening New York’s emergency response capabilities, in situations where every second counts,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a news release.
Steven J. Santa Maria, director of the Fulton County Emergency Management, said the SICG Grant will help pay for several infrastructure projects, including hardware and software upgrades at six radio towers; installation of generators at towers; coordination and licensing of a new repeated and simulcasted emergency medical service frequency; remote monitoring of equipment; and continuing upgrade of base, mobile and portable radios.
Santa Maria said the money also will help with a long-term effort to improve radio communication in northeast Fulton County.
“There is an area that we really struggle with communications between agencies and our dispatch center, mainly due to terrain issues,” he said.
“The potential tower site we are looking at is in the northeast corner of the county and we believe it would greatly improve our problem area.”
Still to be done: A coverage study and a microwave path study to see if they are correct, and improvement will result. If those go well, the tower and an enclosure for the equipment will be engineered and designed. And before anything is actually built, the plan must be approved by the Adirondack Park Agency.
“So this will most likely be a multi-year process with a number of steps that need to be taken,” Santa Maria said.
Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery T. Smith said the PSAP grant will support the county dispatch center, and help pay for its new computer-aided dispatch system and other equipment.
With the SICG grant, the county is looking at strengthening two of its microwave towers and potentially building a new shelter building at one of the other towers, depending on how much all that would cost.
Smith said the grants are much-appreciated.
“This money is very valuable to us,” he said. “The dispatch center, the radio system and our microwave system all support our first responders. Without this money these projects would be very difficult to budget for and/or complete.”
It’s part of the network of communications that allows emergency personnel to respond uniformly in a crisis, Smith said, and essential non-emergency agencies that are part of the solution — school districts and public works departments — have been incorporated over the years.
“The ability for fire, EMS and law enforcement to communicate directly enables us to be better prepared and to provide a less chaotic and more organized response,” he added.
Schenectady County will use the PSAP grant to pay salaries at the county Unified Communications Center and the SICG grant to offset the annual maintenance cost for the new countywide radio system, with any remaining funds going toward building additional redundancy into the system.
State records show Schenectady County has received $10.4 million through the two grant programs since 2013, the bulk of that in SICG funds. That has helped defray the cost of the radio system, which replaced an assortment of outdated and unreliable systems, Schenectady County spokeswoman Erin Roberts said.
“The county Legislature pledged to fund the entire $19 million cost of the project, which included upgrading and replacing multiple radio towers, replacing outdated street-level mobile and portables for all emergency responders and updating equipment used at the UCC. There was no cost to local municipalities,” she said.
“Previously, police, fire and EMS agencies within the county operated on various frequency bands and there were areas within the county that did not have radio coverage. Since the completion of the project earlier this year, all first responder agencies within the county are now on a single, higher-powered radio system that makes it easier for those agencies to communicate with our UCC dispatchers and amongst themselves.”