A new tower approved for construction last week will mark an important step toward improving emergency communications in Schoharie County and beyond.
The county’s Board of Supervisors awarded a $207,474 contract to Albany-based Advanced Network Services on Dec. 20, according to county spokeswoman Sheryl Largeteau.
The work will be paid for with a $858,000 grant from New York state’s Statewide Interoperable Communications Grant program, county Undersheriff Ronald R. Stevens said.
The project will involve replacing the longstanding 150-foot-tall radio tower on Petersburg Mountain with a 180-foot-tall tower capable of withstanding the weight of new microwave gear to be installed, Stevens said.
A structural analysis of the existing tower showed it couldn’t support all the gear the county is planning to install, Stevens said.
Schoharie County joined with Delaware, Greene, Otsego, Sullivan and Ulster counties to form the Catskill Consortium two years ago to pool resources and capabilities and secure grant funding following tropical storms Irene and Lee, which exposed shortcomings in emergency communications.
The work, to begin this winter, will include building a base foundation for the new tower, adding a generator and removing old radio equipment buildings on the site, Stevens said.
A new, 12-foot by 32-foot modular building will be constructed to replace outdated ones.
Stevens said the new gear will not only improve communications within the county but also serve to assist neighboring counties during emergencies.
The project is part of a broader effort aimed at making it possible for first responders to communicate across state and local borders with the development of national communication frequencies, Stevens said.
“This is being done across the nation,” Stevens said.
Officials realized the need for communications improvement in Schoharie County in 2011 when firefighters from as far as Ohio showed up to respond to the flooding disaster. First responders from elsewhere will be able to tune in to national frequencies to better direct their efforts.
In addition, the consortium’s upgrades are being tied together like a web to add options for emergency contact in the event gear in one county becomes inoperable, Stevens said.
“It would allow everyone to be able to communicate on these national first-responder frequencies,” he said.
He described the work as “just the tip of the iceberg” of improvements sought, including the goal of getting the county’s emergency-911 system out of the flood zone.
The county is currently struggling to get FEMA to help pay for building a new public safety facility to replace the flooded building off Main Street in Schoharie.
“We still have a long ways to go. This will be like putting a cornerstone in, if you will,” Stevens said.