Centre County government has been working with the wireless provider Motorola since the 1970s on three major projects, but Emergency Communications Director Dan Tancibok said the latest 911 project has gone the smoothest.
The $18 million new system that upgraded the outdated setup is getting close to completion and Tancibok has been pleased with the results, getting more than 90 percent coverage — up from less than 50 percent — across the county, which paid about $14 million, not including maintenance agreements.
“You have some issues and conflicts and you work through them, but all in all we’ve been very satisfied with them and that’s why we’ve stuck with them,” Tancibok said.
Past upgrades in the 1970s and 1990s have improved the State College and Penn State system and county 911 system, and the latest effort has unified the two, allowing for improved coverage across the area, Tancibok said.
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The county is in the process of switching fire and EMS to the digital system, which Tancibok said is ahead of schedule and could be finished by the third week in April.
There have been times that the system went down, including a 2007 incident when the county was unable to page firefighters in case of emergency, but Tancibok said those have been due to the age of the system, not the fault of the wireless provider.
One sticking point throughout the years has been the cost of the service.
County Administrator Tim Boyde said when the idea for another upgrade first came up, the price was much higher than the final cost because they were able to negotiate. He compared the negotiations to buying a car: The first price thrown out on both sides was not immediately accepted.
“They were willing to work with us, and we were willing to work with them,” Boyde said. “We didn’t take the first offer and they didn’t take our first offer.”
The talks were tough at times, but the county was able to work out what it believed was a fair price with the help of its consulting agency, Mission Critical Partners, Commissioner Chris Exarchos said.
Because the county has used a Motorola system in the past, Exarchos said it was a logical move because using another wireless provider would have created additional complications and could have increased the cost.
All in all, the end product has exceeded expectations to this point, Commissioner Michael Pipe said.
Pipe said he won’t be making any final conclusions about the quality until the system is completely online and has been through the test of a few football weekends, but he is happy so far. He praised the work of the administrative staff and other county offices to get the project to this stage.