GOSHEN—Sometime in 2017 all of Orange County’s various emergency service agencies will be able to communicate with one another on the same radio system, a development welcomed by fire and police departments and ambulance services.
The county legislature voted on Dec. 3 to approve bonding for $11 million for an integrated radio project that includes construction of new towers, new radios and other equipment for more than 100 fire, police, and EMS agencies.
Currently the various agencies are connected through a patchwork of systems, which means fire departments can communicate among themselves, but may not be able to communicate with police, or vice versa.
“Public safety agencies within Orange County are using a variety of [Land Mobile Radio] LMR systems to provide for their wireless communications needs. Many agencies use more than one system to achieve LMR interoperability,” a county plan for interoperable communications says.
The new radios would allow all the various agencies responding to an emergency to communicate at once “without having to jump through any hoops,” Emergency Services Commissioner, Walter Koury said.
In addition to the portable radios, it will fund radio systems for the emergency services department, the sheriffs office, the district attorney, probation, and DPW, Koury said.
It will also allow local agencies to communicate with certain state agencies and agencies in other counties on both sides of the Hudson, according to a proposal for the project.
Koury said once approved, the system could be set up and operable by late in 2017.
This is the third bond resolution the county has approved for this project. The first one was in 2013 for $3 million, the second in 2014 for $9 million, and this last resolution to approve bonding for $11 million would bring the projected total cost of the project up to $25 million.
The other $6 million will come from a grant from the NYS Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services, said Justin Rodriguez, director of communications for the county.
While the project looks costly up front, Koury says it has some savings in it. Right now most of the radio devices in the county and municipalities are rented, he said, and altogether the county and municipalities pay about a million dollars a year for them.
At that rate it would take 25 years before the county would see savings. He said the life of the radios are about 20 years.
However the $25 million also covers the purchase of the land and construction, and equipment for seven new radio towers that Koury says will “help close a lot of the gaps” in coverage.
Regardless of the money, the radio systems would have to be replaced for 16 law enforcement agencies and one fire department in the county, one report said. The current radio vendor will no longer make the radios or parts for the radios the agencies are currently using starting in 2017, Koury explained, so “that was the whole impetus for us going into this.”
Legislator Michael Paduch( D- Wallkill, Middletown) raised the concern that two for-profit ambulances, EMstar Ambulance and Mobile Life Support Services, would be getting radios at a reduced rate of 50 percent the cost while taxpayers would make up the difference. Mobile Life would get 50 radios and a base station and Emstar would get 20 and a base station, according to the current plan.
Emergency Services Committee Chairman, Kevin Hines (R-Cornwall, Blooming Grove and New Windsor), said he supported giving them that discount because they were forced to purchase the radios to operate in the county.
“They may have known this was coming but not necessarily had the money to pay for it,” he said.
The other concern broached was about the bid procurement process. After one vendor dropped out of the bidding, only Motorola was left.
“I want to make sure that we have the best bang for our buck and that would be best helped by having competitive bids,” said Jeff Berkman (D-Middletown).
Hines replied that the other bidder mostly likely dropped out because they knew they could not compete with Motorola’s bid, which cut the county a deal that was $12 million less than if it had bought the radios on a state contract.
Hines said other counties that have converted to the system have paid “significantly more” for these radios.
Of all the representatives of fire, police and EMS agencies he had spoken to, Hines said all were supportive of the new system.
Hines lauded it as one of the “biggest and most significant commitments to public safety,” the county had made.
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