Erie County, PA building its own, converged, Public Radio system to replace a “patchwork of odd frequencies and systems” More municipalities should take this lead!

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What you need to know about the $26.4 million program that’s about to go into effect.

About Erie County’s Next Generation Public Safety Radio System:

• The project began in 2014.

• The cost is $26.5 million.

• Erie County is paying for the project with a $19.4 million capital bond and more than $7 million from its reserves.

• It will replace a patchwork of radio communication systems used by police, fire, EMS and other first responders throughout Erie County, moving them to a digital platform.

• “Currently we have a system of systems. For example, the Erie Fire Department is on VHF. The Millcreek fire departments are on UHF. The city can’t speak to Millcreek and Millcreek can’t speak to the city and therefore they lack interoperable communications.” — Erie County Director of Public Safety John Grappy.

• Safety forces will communicate within 56 different talk groups.

• Law enforcement talk groups will be encrypted.

• The project includes replacement and addition of dispatching consoles, communication towers, antennas, dishes, handheld radios, mobile radios and other equipment.

• It uses 10 existing and eight new communication towers. New tower sites are in the city of Corry, Union City borough, and Fairview, Greenfield, Harborcreek, Springfield, Girard, and Waterford townships.

• The new system is scheduled to be fully operation in the second quarter of 2019. It will be rolled out across five zones in the following order: the city of Erie, Millcreek Township (fire and EMS only), east Erie County, west Erie County and south Erie County.

• MCM Consulting Group was hired by the Erie County Department of Public Safety to serve as project consultant.

• E.F. Johnson won the contract to provide equipment for the project in August 2016.

• The project has been delayed by lengthy wait times to obtain licenses through the Federal Communications Commission. Those licenses also needed approval from the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, said Michael McGrady of the MCM Consulting. Erie County received its final license in late December, a day before the federal government shut down for 35 days.

• Another delay occurred in the winter of 2017-18 when a tower site at Elk Creek Access was damaged and needed to be relocated to the nearby Lake Erie Community Park.

• The system won’t go live until all users have been trained on how to use the new equipment.

• With comments or questions about the project, call the Erie County Department of Public Safety at (814) 451-7920.

Sources: Erie County Department of Public Safety, Erie Times-News archives.