Delaware County Council approves $38 million radio system for emergency responders | Panda Anku

MEDIA — Delaware County’s first responders dealing with troubled radios will be a thing of the past as Delaware County Council gave the thumbs-up for the first emergency communications system update in 50 years.

The council unanimously approved the purchase of a $38 million Atlas P25 radio system from JVCKenwood, which will provide 3,700 radios for the county’s first responders and convert the system to 700MHz operation.

“This is probably the most important thing for all law enforcement, fire and emergency services in Delaware County,” said John Viola, Haverford Township Police Chief and a board member of the Delaware County Police Chiefs Association. “We have suffered for a long, long time with the position of the radio system and… its shortcomings.”

John Hudyma, fire chief at Holmes Fire Company in Ridley Township, also thanked the council.

“Your efforts will enable our members to operate safely … and better serve Delaware County residents as well,” he said.

Chris Eiserman, Vice President of the Delaware County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 27 and Deputy Chief of Police for Folcroft, approved the purchase of JVCKenwood.

“It’s the best system money can buy,” he said. “Not just cops, but first responders across the county, their radio doesn’t need to work sometimes, not most of the time, but all of the time and right now that’s not happening. I think with this new system, with JVCKenwood, that will happen.”

Of the 3,700, 1,500 portable radios will go to police and law enforcement officers, including 1,100 municipal police officers and 400 county, state, federal and tactical team radios; 1,675 portable radios distributed to fire and rescue services; and 125 portable radios are dedicated to emergency management.

The purchase also includes 400 mobile radios, 350 of which are for fire and rescue units and 50 for county special forces vehicles.

It is expected to take three years to build the new system, which will cover 97 percent of Delaware County’s road coverage.

“Coverage will be widespread across the county,” said Delaware County Director of Emergency Services Timothy Boyce, adding that it is not currently the case.

For some time, first responders have encountered various issues with the current communications system.

In the fall of 2019, the county’s 911 headquarters recorded four or five instances where emergency responders were unable to reach the center with their portable radios due to a phenomenon called “ducting.” Emergency responders in Delaware County use a 500T band frequency for communications, and signals on this frequency can be lost under certain conditions, such as B. a heavy cloud cover, rebound. It is also caused by television broadcasts.

There were also problems with system hacking and with channeling turning off channels.

The new JVCKenwood system is 700MHz based and will utilize 20 towers that are present across the county. Boyce said one of these may need to be replaced.

Boyce said the towers are currently facing single points of failure, but through the new system, each of them will be able to act and talk to each other independently.

He added that channeling in the JVCKenwood system is less likely and hacking will be overcome in the new scenario.

“One of the flaws in our current system is that a police officer in Darby Borough cannot speak to a police officer in Radnor at the moment,” said the director. That will change with the JVCKenwood system.

In addition, Boyce said the system will use a Nokia microwave backhaul solution.

He gave the example of how most volunteer firefighters are notified. “The traditional way we warn them is going away,” Boyce said. “The majority currently have to rely on cell phone signal, but with any disaster where we lose cell phone service, we lose contact with our first responders. So we are replacing that system with a radio-based system so our volunteers know when an emergency occurs during an important event.”

“The system is designed to ensure we have enough channels available at any peak time,” he said, noting that it will include nine channels and 1,000 talkgroups.

Encryption that meets Federal Communication Commission standards is added to the system.

“This really is a great radio that does a lot of the things that we need to do,” Boyce said, adding that cops need to be heard through sirens and screams. “We want to make sure we can hear them, so we’re not just buying a smart radio, we’re buying a radio that meets their needs in the dynamic environment that they operate.”

Municipalities can buy more radios if they wish and training on the new system will be extensive.

Boyce said the 2,300 radios currently in use will go to school safety officers and others, and police will be able to communicate with them.

The initial cost of the system was expected to be between $50 million and $70 million, despite the JVCKenwood contract being $38 million. Of those costs, $6 million will be covered by grants from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program.

The cost is expected to be $18.67 per county resident over the next three years.

The district council thanked the first responders and the state delegation in their statements before unanimously approving the radio contract.

“I am very excited to be able to move this project forward and support our first responders,” said County Council Chair Dr. Monica Taylor. “It’s a long-standing issue. I believe the last time this system was upgraded was in the 1970s.”

District Councilor Richard Womack said he had experienced current radios not working properly and was glad this new system was beginning to bear fruit.

“I believe that our first responders are just as important as our lives … and they need to be equipped with every possible option and not just any option, but the best option,” he said. “I appreciate the work they do. I cherish their lives as they cherish the lives of our community.”

District Councilor Christine Reuther thanked the first responders who have played their part throughout the process while serving the community during the pandemic.

“It was quite an achievement,” she said, noting the magnitude of the moment and the well-known need for it 20 years ago. “Everyone will start with radios that work with this system. I hope that the residents of this county will benefit from this investment. It’s not just spending money. It invests in the quality of service our residents receive (and) in the lives of the people who serve them.”

District Councilor Kevin Madden agreed as he thanked first responders.

“We should thank you every day for putting your life on the line for all of us, but also for being great partners in all of this,” he said. “We cannot allow those who put their lives on the line every day without what they need most, which is to be able to receive and share important information about their work.”

County Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said kicking the can out into the street to address the need for improved emergency communications technology is not an option for this council.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate use of taxpayers’ money and no more important use of taxpayers’ money,” she said.

After the council approved the purchase, the congregation applauded.

Delaware County Director of Emergency Services Timothy Boyce thanks the Delaware County Council for its $38 million investment in a new emergency communications system for first responders.

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