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Monday, July 30, 2007

New Wireless 911 System Won't Expand Coverage


By James Jones

On June 29, 2007, Bryan G. Robinson, a correspondent for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette reported that Tioga County’s 911 system is getting a complete overhaul. As part of that, Tioga County Board of Commissioners approved a $3.1 million contract with Motorola for a digital microwave system for the county Department of Emergency Services.

Dave Cohick, county director of emergency services, said the new digital system will replace an outdated analog radio system. “The system we have in now was put in in 1979 and it can’t handle what we’re going to do,” he said.

One of the requirements the state has set for counties’ emergency services is that they are able to locate a wireless caller within 200 feet, he said. This new system will allow the center to do that for both Tioga and Potter counties. Tioga County Emergency Communications Center also dispatches for Potter County. “It will create better communication between the two counties,” he said.

Tioga County Commissioner Erick Coolidge also credited Potter County officials, especially the commissioners and John Hetrick, Cohick’s counterpart there, director of emergency services for Potter County. “I can’t stress enough how important it was that both Potter and Tioga County worked together on this,” said Coolidge.

On June 21, the Potter County Board of Commissioners also approved another contract with Motorola for digital microwave for 4.2 million dollars.

On June 22, radio station WFRM posted the following news on their web site:

During their meeting yesterday, the Potter County Commissioners approved a $4.2 million agreement between the County and Motorola to provide the equipment, system, and optimization services for a new Microwave System Infrastructure for the 911 Wireless program.

The program is fully funded through the state 911 Wireless Program.

Chairman Ken Wingo told WFRM that members of the statewide committee from Philadelphia and Delaware Counties pushed hard for Potter County to get the funding because they realize many of their residents vacation here and they want them to be able to access 911 anywhere.

In an interview today with Potter County Emergency Services Director John Hetrick to find out what this new $7,300,000.00 radio system would bring to Potter and Tioga Counties, I was impressed that it would allow the 911 center to locate a wireless caller or a wireless lap top computer within 200 feet, bringing the very latest technology to their fingertips.

"But.....John stressed.....only if you have access to a wireless phone tower operated by one of the commercial wireless phone companies like Verizon, Nextel, Att, and others." "The new system will not expand coverage beyond that offered by the commercial carriers." He said one of the wireless companies had surveyed Potter County for complete coverage and reported that it would take 41 towers to give seamless coverage to the entire county. Thats one tower for every 400 residents of Potter County. And that's not likely to be a profitable investment.

So, sorry to dissapoint our friends from Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, but when you are in the backwoods of Potter and Tioga Counties, and get lost, you better bone up on your Boy Scout skills to find your way out, because wireless coverage countywide probably isn't going to happen in this lifetime.

Residents should continue to push the wireless phone companies to add additional towers at least in the major populated areas and across major highways in the two counties.

Wireless 911 will work great, but only where it works!

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