County’s Planned Emergency Radio System Gets A Small Boost From Feds

The county's E-911 communications center, in a photo from the county's website.
The county's E-911 communications center, in a photo from the county's website.

Oswego County got a little bit of help Monday for its massive plan to rebuild its emergency communications system.

US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced that she has secured $200,000 for the project in the federal appropriations bill approved by the  Senate over the weekend.  It’s now on the President’s desk for final approval.

“These federal dollars will go a long way to ensure that Central New York has the tools they need to respond to local public safety requests while freeing up 911 lines for major emergencies,” Gillibrand said in a news release. “I will continue to work hard to ensure that New York receives its fair share for our first responders.”

The grant is a very small part of the money that will be needed to build the five-county system.  Mike Allen, director of the county’s E-911 system, said the project will cost the five counties about $150 million.  “We’re grateful for anything we can get,” he said of Gillibrand’s efforts.

He said a $1 million appropriation from former Congressman John McHugh is pending.

The $200,000 will be split among Oswego, Onondaga, Madison, Cayuga and Cortland counties, the five counties in the plan to build a common emergency communications system.  Oswego County will also rebuild its system to eliminate chronic problems with the current system, which does not provide guaranteed two-way communication in many areas of the county between the E-911 Center and emergency workers in the field who are using handheld radios.

Oswego County will expand from having six radio towers to cover the county, to 15.  Many will be located in the hilly northeastern part of the county where coverage is now poorest.  The goal, Allen said, is to provide 97% coverage for handheld radios.

The county’s project is expected to cost about $24 million, down from an initial estimate of $28 million.  Allen said he’s still negotiating with potential vendors for lower rates.

“Hopefully, this will be a system that everyone in the emergency services community can be proud of,” Allen said.

The County Legislature is scheduled to vote on the project today.

Meantime, Cayuga County’s part of the five-county project was discussed at a public meeting Monday night, as the project’s likely vendor, Motorola, showed its plans to the public.

Sarah Gantz of Auburn’s daily newspaper, The Citizen, wrote:

“How much longer are we going to keep going on?” said Kevin Foster, president of the Aurelius Fire Department. “At some point, they’re going to have to step up to the plate and make a decision.”

Foster said the radio system was a problem when he joined the department 30 years ago, but has really gone down hill in the last five years and is no longer reliable.

Auburn’s radio project could cost as much as $25 million. Legislators there could decide whether to go ahead with the project in early 2010.

Allen said four of the five counties are working on approximately the same timeline.  Cortland County, he said, is a year or two behind the others because the county’s population is small and the project’s cost is large.