Communications switch plans underway

Mary Perham

Extensive plans are now under way to be sure emergency communications in Steuben County are not interrupted after the end of the year.

County Office of Emergency Services Director Michael Sprague said Motorola is on schedule to with plans to set up a “narrow band communications” system in the county by Dec. 31, 2011.

The new system will be funded by a $1.5 million grant recently awarded by the state, Sprague told the county Legislature’s Public Safety and Corrections Committee this week.

The committee approved the mammoth project late last year, in the hopes the state funding would be available.

However, with new Federal Communications Commission regulations due to take effect Jan. 1, 2013 on the current “wide band” system used by police and emergency medical units, the county had no choice.

Under the FFC regs, wide band communications will be available in 2012 to other users and have the potential to interrupt or block emergency transmissions, county Office of Emergency Services Deputy Deputy Tim Marshall said.

“There is the potential for something to conflict, and we would lose that channel,” Marshall said.

The new plan offers the county a chance to reduce the number of the “dead air” spots in the county where communication is now impossible. It also will allow ready access between Steuben responders and out-of-area units called in, in the event of a disaster.