Trial & Error

EMS tests new radios before county-wide roll-out

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Hundreds of radios are lined up at the Warren County 911 Center for programming prior to distribution to first responders — possible as early as mid-summer.

If it seems like it’s taking a lot of time to get the county’s new emergency radio system in place, that’s not a bad thing.

For more than a year, officials in Warren County have been talking about a new county-wide radio system for responders. The county approved funding the project last June.

The radios are here, but they are not in the hands of those who will be using them just yet.

Public Safety Director Ken McCorrison said he is not going to hurry and he is not going to issue a deadline.

“This is people’s safety. If we come across something that needs addressed, we stop the show,” he said. “It’s too important to overlook anything.”

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Hundreds of radios are lined up at the Warren County 911 Center for programming prior to distribution to first responders — possible as early as mid-summer.

Some 400 hand-held radios are in a room at the 911 Center in Brokenstraw Township.

“We’re making sure we don’t have to go and touch them multiple times,” McCorrison said.

As people test the system and talk about what it does and what it should be able to do, sometimes, those ideas are implemented. That would be difficult if the radios were scattered about the county.

“It’s a lot easier while they’re all sitting on a desk in the back room to touch 400 radios,” he said.

They have not been distributed, but people are working with them.

Individuals from various departments are using them, practicing, getting accustomed to them, making suggestions about them. Dispatchers at the 911 Center are getting to see what it’s like when they can a call from one of the radios, and also what the caller is looking at.

“When they activate their unit, this is what they see on their end, this is what you see on your end,” McCorrison said.

“We’re doing individual testing with each agency to make sure if they have individual concerns those are addressed,” McCorrison said. Each responding agency has or will have a trainer at their department.

“We’ve put them through four hours,” he said. “We essentially went over the operations manual with them.”

McCorrison knows where the trouble spots in the county in terms of radio performance are.

“I have personally gone out and traveled the county and done coverage testing,” he said.

But, the individuals in the departments know their area better and some aren’t convinced. So, he encourages agencies to challenge the radios’ performance.

“We go out with the agencies, and say, ‘Show me where your stuff doesn’t work now. We’re going to go take this stuff out and try it,'” McCorrison said. “We’ve done it with four, five agencies so far.”

“It’s going really well,” he said.

The acid test so far was in the City of Warren.

“We went two stories underground in the two-and-a-half-foot steel vault at the Penn Bank Building,” McCorrison said.

They made a call. And county called back. “I was really impressed how that worked,” he said.

The radio didn’t have to make it all the way to a tower. The hand-held had a boost from a repeater in the vehicle parked outside. Still, making it that far from an underground, steel vault was impressive.

While hand-held units will be delivered later, some of the mobile units and the repeaters have been installed. That equipment has been installed in the Warren County Sheriff’s Office vehicles.

City of Warren Police, Conewango Township Police, and Youngsville Borough Police departments are next.

The implementation time is coming. When it does, law enforcement agencies will have the new radios first.

“Law enforcement? We could probably have up and running mid-summer,” McCorrison said. But there’s no hurry. “As long as it takes to get it right.”

After all the testing and practicing, once the radios are in the hands of those who will use them, the county is still hedging its bets.

“Once we’re ready to make police go live, we’ll hand out those radios to police,” McCorrison said. “They’ll have the ability to use their old system. It’s a fail-safe. If something went wrong in the transition, we have the existing infrastructure.”