By: JODI SPIEGEL ARTHUR (Mon, Feb/07/2005)
UPPER MORELAND – Police and emergency services workers in Upper Moreland are having a tough time talking to each other.
Coverage from Montgomery County’s new digital radio system, which is not yet complete, is "spotty at best, nonexistent in some places" in a sizeable portion of Upper Moreland, said police Lt. Carl Robinson. "We have a problem having reliable coverage where we never had problems before."
The county and the mobility solutions division of Motorola are aware of the problem and are asking police and emergency services workers to wait until the entire system is up and running before passing judgment.
"It’s too premature to determine whether you do or don’t have coverage," said Joe Papania, senior account manager for the division.
Joe O’Neill, the township’s emergency services director, said he’s willing to wait until the system is finished. Nevertheless, he said, "We had expressed our fears that we were going to have problems in Upper Moreland."
That’s because Motorola couldn’t guarantee coverage rates for portions of the township. While the company could guarantee the vast majority of the county would have 95 percent coverage for in-car and handheld radios – the industry standard, according to Papania – coverage rates for much of Upper Moreland are undetermined. He said the rates were arrived at with sophisticated prediction software that takes into account characteristics such as terrain and tower sites.
In Upper Moreland, the lack of one tower site that previously was used by police and emergency services might be part of the problem, but it’s too early to tell. Only after the system is completed will the county and Motorola know if some other fix is needed.
"The problem cuts almost through the middle of the township," Robinson said and coverage maps show. "If I’m calling for assistance in an emergency, I don’t know whether my transmission was heard or not," he said. "We’ve come to rely on this security blanket."
Although the system is 18 months behind schedule due to zoning and land development tie-ups, according to Tom Sullivan, Montgomery County’s director of public safety, construction of its 20th and final planned tower is scheduled to be completed within 45 days, weather permitting. In addition, technicians last week began servicing the radios for the best possible reception.
Upper Moreland’s have not been serviced.
After the last tower is built in Plymouth Meeting and adjustments are made to the radios and other parts of the system, including the signal strength of tower antennas, Sullivan said, an accurate assessment of Upper Moreland’s coverage can be made.
Robinson said as towers have been added service has improved, but not enough.
In the event Upper Moreland still doesn’t have sufficient coverage after the last tower is completed and adjustments are made, Sullivan said, the county has talked to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission about the possibility of using its tower on Division Avenue again or placing another tower in that area. The township used the tower on Division Avenue under the old system, but it was unavailable when the new system was planned.
Despite the fact that portions of Upper Moreland are outside the 95 percent guaranteed coverage area, and therefore not guaranteed by Motorola’s contract with the county, Papania said the company would work with the county to improve Upper Moreland’s coverage if necessary.
"If it needs enhancements, we’ll work with them to do that," he said.