Centre County’s police departments shifted to the new, digital 911 system just in time for the Penn State student-created drinking holiday known as State Patty’s Day.
The goal was to get the system online for the police departments in time for the day that sees more local arrests and calls for service than any other during the year, said Dan Tancibok, county emergency communications and 911 director.
The system will allow for clearer communication among police departments, and additional technical capabilities, he said.
“The big thing is they’re all now on the same system and they can talk to each other easier this way than they did before,” Tancibok said.
Tancibok said the county 911 center will also be prepared for State Patty’s on Saturday, with a full compliment of staffing similar to what it would have for a Penn State home football weekend.
The State College Police Department transitioned to the system Wednesday afternoon, and Chief Tom King said he had already seen improvements. He said the radio quality is exceptional, and that there is additional capability for communication with other departments.
He said those upgrades will be key going into State Patty’s Day weekend, when people flock to State College to dress in green and consume alcohol.
“That’s obviously valuable day-to-day, but it becomes even more important during peak-hour activity,” he said.
King said that even typical radio transmissions with dispatch have been improved. Before, officers could hear phones ringing in the background or another person sending officers to a scene. Now, it’s just a clear conversation between the officer and the dispatcher, King said.
The entire system cost about $18 million, including $4 million for Penn State, and will increase the access to the service from less than 50 percent to more than 90 percent of the county. Centre County will move from 13 tower sites to 19.
Fire and EMS services will also be transferred to the new system beginning March 10. Tancibok said that’s a more complicated process because there are more agencies involved, and will take about six weeks.
Though there are some additional housecleaning and finishing touches to follow, Tancibok said he is hoping to be done with the process by June.
As the long project nears its conclusion, Board of Commissioners Chairman Steve Dershem has been happy with the results.
But the major changes will come when all of the county’s fire and EMS agencies are transitioned, he said.
Though the project has taken two years, Dershem praised both in-house work and the efforts of contracted companies.