Nearly a year has passed since the ad hoc Emergency Dispatch Radio committee consisting of elected and appointed municipal officials, members of the police, fire and EMS community and Montgomery County employees held their first meeting to review the issues and recommend a solution to the county’s emergency radio system dilemma. Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor was chosen to head up the group.
Among other tasks, members interviewed four firms that replied to a request for proposal, which had previously been issued, and recommend one to serve as a consultant to help them accomplish their tasks.
The group also assessed the needs of all of the public safety agencies that use the radio system to determine what equipment would best address those needs.
Last Thursday, Commissioners Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards joined Castor in voting for a $29.974 million contract with Motorola Solutions, Inc. to replace the county’s emergency radio system. It was a solution that had Castor praising the 32-member committee for their hard work.
“This was a long time coming … Commissioners Shapiro and Richards placed their trust in me to lead this effort, and with the help of our excellent county staff and the stakeholders on the committee we have arrived at this wonderful day,” said Castor.
The saga began early in 2011 when officials learned that the existing radio system needed an upgrade in order to comply with Federal Communications Commission rules and coexist with the demand of a growing cell phone industry. Some companies were using more of the radio waves and interfering with frequencies used by emergency services.
The options being considered by the commissioners at that time included a no-cost option that would change the radio frequencies but only result in a short-term solution, upgrade the existing system at a cost of about $48 million, or replace the existing 911 system at a cost that could reach $120 million.
According to an agreement with the federal government, Montgomery County and Sprint/Nextel, the communications company would fund an estimated $4.2 million of the cost to re-band.
In addition to the need for re-banding, the county’s Motorola system was considered obsolete and technical support was expected to discontinue by the end of 2012.
The radios used by county fire departments and emergency medical services are only five to seven years old and would still function with an upgraded system.
At the time, it was reported that the upgrade would necessitate the purchase of more than 5,000 police radios at an estimated cost of $17 million; a cost then commissioners Jim Matthews and Joseph Hoeffel wanted municipalities to share. Castor questioned the legality of the proposal and the accuracy of the $48 million projected cost.
The commissioners solicited the municipalities and Matthews indicated that 80 percent of them would need to support the upgrade in order for it to be implemented. He didn’t get it and nothing was done by the end of 2011.
Mathews and Hoeffel were replaced by Shapiro and Richards and, in Jan. 2012, the Emergency Radio Dispatch Committee was appointed. After less than a year, their work is complete.
In addition to approving the agreement at last week’s meeting, the commissioners also agreed to a $9.882 million contract with Motorola for a 10-year maintenance contract for the system.
The $29.974 million figure includes $23.85 million for infrastructure equipment and installation of necessary microwave relays and the necessary software to upgrade 3,400 currently owned subscriber radio units. This would include the installation of 10 new radio towers throughout Montgomery County to eliminate dead zones and generally improve communications throughout the system. The remainder of the $29.9 million ($6.124 million) would be used for the purchase of 1,800 additional radio units.
“Our fundamental responsibilities as commissioners are to protect the safety and well-being our residents and to further protect the fiscal well-being of the county and make sure that taxpayer dollars are well-spent,” said Shapiro Thursday. “Today we accomplished both. Under this contract, we are able to do more than was originally anticipated and we were able to do it for 70 percent less than the previous board said it would cost.”
Motorola is expected to begin work on the upgrades early in 2013 after the contracts are finalized.
In addition to Castor, members of the committee included: Jeff Chomnuk, Pottstown Council, Mark Toomey, Hatfield Township Police Chief, Haydon Marriott, Skippack Fire Chief, Sam Gallen, Montgomery County Detectives, Dep. Chief, Tom Sullivan, Director DPS, Richard Lesniak, Montgomery Twp. Director of Fire Services, Ken Schauder, Chief Bryn Athyn EMS, Terrence Thompson, Upper Dublin Police Chief, Patrick Doyle, Dep. Chief Lower Merion VMSC, John Scholly, Lower Gwynedd Police Chief, George Wilmot, Flourtown Fire Chief, Michelle Jackson, Administration, DPS, Thomas Medwid, Lower Salford Police Chief, Michael Beaty Whitemarsh Police Chief, John Gross, Springfield Police Cpl., Richard Lockhart, Norristown Fire Battalion Chief, John Dougherty, Lower Merion Police Capt., John Dwyer, Second Alarmers Rescue Squad, Richard Lohwasser, Asst. Director Technical Services, DPS, David Brown, EMS – Field Services, DPS, Dennis Orangers, Asst. Director of Fire Rescue Communications, DPS, Joseph Lawrence, Plymouth Township Police Chief, David Camarda, Whitpain Fire Marshal, Ted Thompson, Sheriff’s Dept. Lt., Clinton Wakefield, Washington Fire Co., Charles McGarvey, Lower Merion Fire Chief, John Geib, Asst. Director for Operations, DPS, John DiNolfi, Asst. Director Special Services, DPS, Keith Freed, President MCATO, Linda Christian, Norristown Council, Paul Leonard, Upper Dublin Township Manager, William Kelly, Abington Police Chief, Bob Stanley Hatfield Twp. Police Chief, retired Steve Latzer, DA’s Chief of Staff and Michael Vest, Programs Director, DPS.