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W2LIE.net | Monitor Long Island, Inc. :: Forums :: Scanner Radio :: New York State - General
Moderators: w2lie, Chieftaz, BobLandau, quint14, LI_Scan_Guy, cwerner

Emergency wireless system still not fully operational in Erie County

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Print View Posted: Thu Jun 19 2008, 01:51am

Posted by: w2liePosts: 2805

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From The Buffalo News

Emergency wireless system still not fully operational in Erie County

Updated: 06/16/08 2:41 PM

ALBANY — A sophisticated wireless communication system intended to link emergency offices throughout the state is still not working properly in portions of Buffalo and other areas of Erie and Chautauqua counties.

If the problems aren’t solved soon, the state will be hard-pressed to embrace the $2 billion Statewide Wireless Network later this fall. That’s when a crucial cri - tique will decide whether the system dies in Western New York or expands to other counties that want to tap into the new technology.

“The results thus far are mixed,” said Michael Balboni, the top public safety adviser to Gov. David A. Paterson.

“Chautauqua has had great success. Erie has had limited success,” added Balboni, who spent hours riding around with state troopers two weeks ago in Erie County, personally testing the system.

The goal of the project is to allow emergency agencies to communicate with each other on the same radio channel across town and county lines or even the state.

The stakes are high. Police agencies complain now of not being able to talk directly with, say, firefighters or law enforcement from a neighboring town. In a high-speed chase that crosses a town line, police from different agencies can’t coordinate directly with each other. The system would be invaluable in major emergencies, whether a terrorist incident or a crippling snowstorm, officials say. And they all point to the embarrassing communication lapses in the 2006 manhunt for Ralph “Bucky” Philips.

Spotty coverage The system has shown improvements since tests last fall revealed it failed in large parts of Buffalo, officials said. But according to an evaluation by Erie County’s Department of Emergency Services, the system again failed a number of key evaluations in the most recent round of tests in April.

The evaluation, dated May 7 and obtained by The Buffalo News, shows spotty coverage and poor audio quality in some areas of the county, problems with portable radios to be used by police and fire units, lapsed connections as radios were “handed off” between towers, and widespread trouble connecting to a network intended to link one emergency agency with another.

The 16-page report was submitted to the state Office for Technology, which is overseeing the ambitious project and by Oct. 1 will have the final say on whether the system expands beyond the initial test counties of Erie and Chautauqua. The agency declined comment on the test results.

While some detractors have called for the 2005 contract with M/A-Com, a division of Tyco International, to be abandoned now, officials in Erie, Chautauqua and in Albany say government agencies and the company are aware of the problems and are working to resolve them before a final round of tests in August.

The $2 billion contract — which does not include equipment that local police, fire and other agencies would need to purchase — was supposed to be operational in the two counties two years ago.

“The state is committed to the project, not the vendor. It has to work,” Balboni added.

Lurking not far behind the scenes is Motorola, which lost out on the contract with a $3.4 billion bid. The company is lobbying in Albany and appears to be trying to fuel doubt with lawmakers using the Erie County tests as ammunition, M/ACom’s supporters say.

But state lawmakers, even those who are critical, say it is too soon to jettison M/A-Com.

“I have no problem with the vendor selected, provided they do everything they’re supposed to do and, right now, they’re not in Erie County. I want it to be successful,” said Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, a Buffalo Democrat.

Schroeder said Balboni, in his recent Buffalo trip, got to meet with first responders “and see that they are not amused over what’s happening.”

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples, a Buffalo Democrat who met with Balboni and others on the project, said she was surprised to learn that communication equipment had not been installed atop the county emergency services building in Buffalo to help fix some of the lapses in the city. That has since been corrected over the past two weeks.

“I want to see it done right because it’s an invaluable service,” she said.

Mixed results The state began embracing a statewide system in 1998, but the push intensified following the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Delays have beset the project, which was to have been rolled out throughout the state by 2010.

Results of the evaluations, which included more than 100,000 test points every 100 meters or so, have been different between the two counties.

In Erie County, officials believe Buffalo’s busy cell phone tower transmissions have interfered with the wireless network, a problem they say can be overcome. Buffalo’s taller buildings are also causing some interference.

Sources say some state agencies doing their own tests in Erie County, including the State Police, are still finding problems. A State Police spokesman declined comment.

Erie County Emergency Services Commissioner Gregory Skibitsky declined comment, referring only to recent comments he made saying the system is not yet emergency grade ready.

In Chautauqua County, Sheriff Joseph Gerace is the system’s biggest fan. He talked of the old system that led to incidents where he was unable to talk to a fire chief on a radio even if the two could see each other.

With the new system, he said, he could talk on a portable radio from his desk to a patrol car at the other end of the county, or to the State Police in Albany if needed. Police in the future will be able to coordinate directly with, for example, a state transportation plow truck during a storm or any number of police agencies during a manhunt.

“I’m very excited about what the system brings to us,” he said.

Cost is an issue The contract with the state calls for M/A-Com to provide coverage in 97 percent of every county. It remains uncertain how many localities will opt into the system. Erie County, for instance, already has said it will not be a full partner in the wireless network, in part, because of estimates it will cost $36 million.

Erie County Executive Chris Collins said the county will still be a “gateway” partner, meaning the county’s emergency department could still have access using existing equipment to talk to state and local agencies in an emergency.

Two state lawmakers — Sen. Vincent Leibell of Putnam County and Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester County — last week called on Paterson to publicly disclose the test results in Erie and Chautauqua counties. They noted concerns about coverage in places like forest preserves and inside buildings.

The final round of tests are being done now and will last into July to determine if problems in places like Buffalo and Jamestown have been fixed, and even to see to what extent foliage on trees may cause interference.

The state is turning to an outside company to evaluate the final tests. By Aug. 29, the state must say if the system is working according to the contract terms in the two counties. A month later, it either permits or blocks a statewide expansion.


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