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Countywide emergency radio system planned

Countywide emergency radio system planned

County Legislature to vote on $18.6 million upgrade

SCHENECTADY COUNTY -- The Schenectady County Legislature is preparing to fund an $18.6 million upgrade to the emergency radio system used by police, fire and emergency medical agencies in the county, establishing a single countywide system.

Two legislative committees Monday night approved the plans, which will be aided by a $6 million state grant announced last fall as part of the state's efforts to establish a statewide interconnected emergency radio system. The system will be interlinked with the Albany County radio system.

In addition to that and other grant funding, the financing plan approved by the Legislature's Ways and Means Committee includes $10.5 million in borrowing, and a $355,400 withdrawal from the county's surplus funds.

The approvals by that committee and the Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee sends the plans to the full County Legislature for a vote on June 11.

"Every second counts in an emergency and the ability to improve and expand our current radio system will ensure better communication between our dispatch, police, fire and EMTs and provide a quicker response which often can mean the difference between life and death," said Legislature Chairman Anthony Jasenski, D-Rotterdam.

Plans call for establishing a countywide simulcast radio system for use by all emergency response agencies, relying in part on the established Albany County Motorola radio system. "The new system will significantly enhance communications within and between all agencies," County Manager Kathleen Rooney wrote in a memo to the Legislature.

The county official who oversees the emergency radio system said it will also make it easier for emergency responders who may cross county lines during a major emergency. “Outside agencies coming into the county -- this is the world we live in -- if they have to come into the county, they can’t communicate with incident commanders," said Kevin Spawn, director of the county's unified communications center.

The system will replace the different radio systems now used by various municipalities, many of which are as much as three decades old. "A number of the existing systems are reaching the end of their useful life," Rooney wrote.

The new system would have 11 tower or transmission sites, including three towers in Duanesburg and one in Esperance that would primarily serve the Duanesburg area. Nearly all the tower sites already exist, though one new 195-foot tower will be needed in Duanesburg.

The tie-in with Albany County would reduce the equipment the county has to purchase, saving about $1 million, "and at the same time tie the two systems together, providing unprecedented coverage and inter-operability for this region during incidents that cross county lines," Spawn said.

The long-range goal, Spawn said, is to interlink county radio systems with Saratoga and Rensselaer, as well as Albany.

The system is expected to improve radio reception in Duanesburg, West Glenville, and other areas that have historically had poor coverage because of terrain or other issues.

As part of the effort, the county recently replaced the Bevis Hill radio tower in Niskayuna. Rooney said that in addition to the $6 million Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management grant, the county has received about $1.8 million in other state grant funds and is hoping to secure more grants.

"We hope that this [project] can be accomplished at little or no cost to the city, towns, villages or fire districts," Rooney wrote.

The cost estimate includes radio equipment, towers, tower improvements, expansion of microwave communications and project management costs.

Ideally, construction of the radio system would be completed within two years, Spawn told the Legislature. He said the new system might not be fully operational for five years.

Police leaders in the county, including Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford and county Sheriff Dominic Dagostino, have all signed a letter supporting the project. "The plan lets Schenectady County replace all the different radio systems in place in the county and bring them all under one design," their May 24 letter states.

Police chiefs, fire chiefs and EMTs attended Monday night's meeting to show support for the proposal, which was developed by a committee of system users.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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