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Legislators Updated On 911 Enhancements, 5-Year plan

OSWEGO, NY – County legislators recently were updated on the work that’s under way on several of the new radio towers that will play a key role in upgrading Oswego County’s emergency radio communications system.

The new interoperable radio system will be used by emergency responders to answer calls in all areas of the county – and across county lines.

“As far as work that has been done since the last time that we met, we actually installed two more foundations for tower sites; one in Orwell and one in Sandy Creek,” Mike Allen, E-911 program director, told members of the county’s Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee. “We continue to move forward, building where we can, as weather dictates and come spring – when we get rid of the seven foot of snow in Redfield, we’ll start that site.”

Eight new towers are being built, and the existing towers in Oswego, Granby, Hastings, Boylston, Constantia and Redfield are being refurbished, to improve radio coverage throughout the county.

The new system is designed to provide 97 percent coverage for portable radios used by emergency responders.

Also, some of the towers will have additional capabilities to accommodate rescue operations for other agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard.

The five-year plan for the 911 center is a work in progress, Allen said.

It really outlines some of the things that they’d like to address in the next five years.

The goal is to streamline operations in the center.

“The gist of what we’re looking for in our five-year plan will help us reduce overhead for the 911 center and allow us to streamline the process and really make good use of the valuable resources that we have,” he said.

In 2005, they put together a five year-plan and completed every one of those tasks save one and that is the complete build out of the new telephone answering system for the 911 center.

“So, we’re pretty happy that we were able to accomplish just about everything in our previous five-year plan,” Allen said. “Obviously one of the things that we’re looking at is some type of feed back from the legislature as to moving the dispatch operation.”

The center has been housed on the top floor of the Oswego County Public Safety Center for approximately two decades. “The space is getting old and tired,” Allen noted.

Members of the Public Safety Committee have been given a number of informational memos on the proposal.

There was a study and the results were brought back to the committee for consideration and that where things sit right now, he added.

“Ultimately, what we’re looking for is to be able to provide a safe and technologically suitable location for continued dispatch operations. I feel that can be accomplished by moving,” Allen said. “If it is something we can’t do in conjunction with the communications system, it is certainly something that we should be looking into.”

Also on the new plan is to acquire the next generation telephone equipment.

“Technology in telephone communications has exceeded the capability of our current system, which is 15 years old. It is based on the technology that was developed in the 1960s and 1970s,” he said. “It really has met its useful lifespan and the reality is the equipment we have in our current center will no longer be supported after 2011; it will be supported as long as there are parts available – but there are no longer guarantees that support that equipment.”

As long as the county is doing all of these other things related to enhancing the 911 system, it might be advantageous to think about incorporating moving the center and building out all these new technologies; basically replacing or enhancing three out of the major components that the center currently has, Allen suggested.

He would also like to be able to provide an electronic version of emergency medical dispatch for call-takers in the center.

“Basically what we’re looking for is a software upgrade, to prompt the call-takers to ask certain questions based on information that the call-taker is providing,” he explained. “Today, they have a flip-chart that they look at and it is cumbersome and very involved, it’s very hard to follow at times. What we’re looking for is a more streamlined delivery of that service.”

They also want a system whereby they can get information about out-of-country license plates.

When law enforcement officials in the county call in a plate for a license plate check for an individual from Canada they have to use a separate, older style, system.

The center is limited as to what it can do in the current system and a technology upgrade would correct that, he said.

When the county’s 911 upgrades are completed, emergency agencies and public utilities across Oswego County will be able to communicate with each other and with their counterparts in Onondaga and Cayuga counties during emergencies.

Cortland and Madison counties are also part of the regional program.