Several Delaware County fire departments are reporting issues with the county’s new public safety communications system more than seven weeks after the system went live.
In a May 4 letter addressed to Delaware County Department of Emergency Services Director Steve Hood, nearly two-thirds of the county’s 30 fire chiefs outlined “major weak areas for paging coverage” and other perceived shortfalls with the new system, which is used to dispatch fire, law enforcement and emergency services personnel.
“Trout Creek, Masonville, Fleischmanns, East Branch, Hancock, Arena and others are having major troubles with receiving pager activation,” the letter read. “A solution to this problem is of utmost importance for the safety of the general public that we serve.”
“It’s not that there isn’t a signal,” said Bud Gladstone, Andes town supervisor and chair of the Public Safety Committee. “It’s the topography.”
Gladstone said he called a special committee meeting Monday to address the concerns outlined in the letter, which he said was signed by “18 or 20” fire chiefs.
Hood said the coverage issues were predicted, given the county’s mountainous terrain and dense foliage. Upon completion, the system was expected to provide roadside coverage for 85% of the county.
While no calls have been dropped, Hood said some fire departments in the affected areas have missed tones as a result of the coverage issues.
Departments in Masonville and Trout Creek are paged on both the new and the old communications systems, the latter of which is still online, Hood said. Temporary “standalone” paging sites will also be installed to supplement the existing towers.
“It’s been a little bit of a process,” Hood said. “We’re working on fixing the issues. A big project like this isn’t going to come off perfect.”
The letter came as a surprise, Hood said. “The bulk of the system is working as expected and is working well.”
“We are working on all the issues and I think everyone left the meeting satisfied,” Gladstone said.
Representatives from PMC Wireless, the New Jersey-based technology integrator contracted to complete the project, will tour the problematic sites within the coming weeks and provide a list of additional equipment needed for further upgrades, Gladstone said.
As of February, the county had nearly $16 million at its disposal to install 15 new emergency communications towers, according to Hood.
Nearly $1 million is available in remaining grant funds and bond proceeds, which were earmarked for upgrades after the system went live, according to Hood. With upgrades and improvements to the designated sites estimated at $50,000 apiece, the project is expected to remain within its budget.
“Overall, the system is working well,” Gladstone said. “Most everybody is satisfied with its performance.”
Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond said his department is “extremely happy” with the new system.
“It’s increased our coverage ability significantly,” he said, especially in terms of situational awareness. “My car in Grand Gorge needs to understand what’s going on in Hancock.”
“When an emergency happens, we need to be as responsive as possible because it could be everything on the line,” DuMond said.