By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register — ALBION — Orleans County has formalized a major agreement providing upgrades to emergency communications being undertaken by the county.
The legislature approved a $5 million contract Wednesday with Harris Corp. of Rochester to upgrade the countywide 800 MHz radio system to the P25 standard. Harris will also install a pair of radio towers to ensure a far greater level of coverage and communication for the county’s emergency responders and law enforcement officials.
Harris Corp. officials estimated the project will take about 14 months to complete, but after three years of negotiations and many more of requests for improvement from local emergency responders, time is moving quickly.
”Oh, are we desirous of this,” Legislator Lynne Johnson said in reading the section of the the agreement resolution indicating the county’s willingness to move forward. “This enhances enhances coverage for safety radios, and improves communication between public safety and emergency management.”
One of the new towers, which Harris Corp. officials said would be 150 to 180 feet tall, will be placed near the village’s water tank on Maple Ridge Road. The other would be located near the Town of Clarendon highway department garage on Hindsburg Road.
Harris Corp. Program Manager Tony Papandrea said the upgrade to the P25 standard and rebanding existing radio frequencies and radios will allow Orleans County’s system to be inter-operable with those in neighboring counties.
”This is the industry standard that all first responders strive for,” Papandrea said.
County Emergency Management Director Paul Wagner said Wednesday that the hardware used by first responders — radios and other technology — will surely change in coming years. But the county’s investment in infrastructure will be beneficial far into the future.
”This present system expansion is good for the lifetime of this county,” Wagner said.
The existing, obsolete network is anchored by a large communications tower in the Town of Albion. The 125-watt signal was powerful, but that power extended only in one direction. Harris Corp. System Engineer Wayne Vanderpool explained that the county’s portable and mobile radio devices did not have the power to throw a signal back to the central tower, comparing it to a weak-armed person playing long toss with a rocket-armed major league outfielder.
That will change under the new system, with nearly 95 percent coverage, increased talkback coverage and improved in-building coverage. The additional towers will shorten the distance for messages to travel, and the re-banding will improve the quality of those back-and-forth signals.
The $5.5 million project received another boost Wednesday, with the announcement that $2 million from the New York State Department of Homeland Security funds to reduce the county’s contribution.
”This is a significant award that will greatly facilitate implementation (of the new system),” Legislature Chairman David Callard said.
Legislators authorized a $4.5 million bond for the project last year, but the grant will allow the county to borrow less now.Contact reporter Jim Krencik at 798-1400, ext. 6327.