Centre County to begin tests of new 911 system

mmorgan@centredaily.comOctober 7, 2013 

— As the major 911 and emergency management upgrade project nears its conclusion, the county will begin tests on the system this month.

The new system is expected to yield a huge improvement in area coverage and quality of radio equipment.

“On paper, we’re going from roughly about 45 percent coverage of the county, currently, to about 95,” Commissioner Chris Exarchos said. “That’s a significant improvement.”

With the new offices in the Willowbank Building being completed and most of the microwave and radio equipment on the towers, the testing is one of the last major steps before the county begins to cut over to the new system in December.

The transition will take a month or two, Exarchos said, adding that a switch can’t just be flipped to have the new coverage overnight.

“But the new digital system will come with cleaner and clearer radio waves,” Board of Commissioners Chairman Steve Dershem said.

One reason for the October tests is to determine how everything holds up while most of the leaves are still on the trees.

Ultimately, Dershem said, the new system will work well for everyone who needs it.

“I think our emergency responders will be very pleased in the outcome of this new system,” he said.

Though there will still be some small “dead spots,” Exarchos said that is not really a concern because it could be a geographic ravine that doesn’t necessarily need emergency response coverage.

Dershem compared it to a cellphone that doesn’t get reception in some small areas.

County officials have said that the new system’s switchboard will have a capacity to take on an extra load, so the possibility of sharing it with other counties has been discussed.

Exarchos said those are ongoing talks and something the state encourages, but that there hasn’t been any movement to make anything official yet.

“There’s always discussion statewide about sharing services,” he said.

Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan.

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