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Article Archive >> In Your County

County Comment: Public Safety Communications System Information Meeting Set

County Comment
Public Safety Communications System Information Meeting Set
by Norman Bassett
Public Information Officer, Washington County, Maryland

As part of its new Public Safety Communications system upgrade that will allow police, fire and rescue first responders and local governments to talk to one another on the same emergency radio frequency, Washington County is currently constructing or improving tower sites in several locations.
A public information meeting has been set for March 26th at 7:00 pm at Pleasant Valley Elementary school on Maryland Route 67 to provide information about a proposed tower in the Sandy Hook area at the extreme southern tip of the County.
County Communications Maintenance Manager Pete Loewenheim is serving as Project Manager for the endeavor, which will cost $20 million, much of that from federal and state sources.
Loewenheim said that over the years, communications requirements for various agencies of the County, Hagerstown, and the State of Maryland grew at different rates, and the result over many years, has been a system with many radio frequencies. The impact is that the various agencies, who would be required to work together in time of an emergency, could not communicate with one another by direct radio contact.
"Each system was the very best that it could be, at the time it was installed," Loewenheim said, "however, the systems are extremely old, and well beyond their useful lifetimes. It's very difficult to maintain them."
The need for agencies to inter-operate was brought home during the 9/11 disaster, when police, fire and emergency services personnel had difficulty coordinating rescue efforts in New York City.
Interoperability in public safety became a byword, and a major push from the federal and state level to correct such problems was seen nationwide.
The new County system will provide excellent coverage, despite the terrain difficulties imposed by our mountains and valleys. That coverage must extend from Sandy Hook at the southern tip of the County to Sideling Hill and beyond, in the extreme western section. Elevations range from 400 feet above sea level to 2,000 feet above sea level.
"We have a very tough task to get anyone anywhere covered with radio," Loewenheim said.
Ninety percent of the time the agencies will still be talking to themselves, on individual frequencies, but because they will share the same system, in emergency situations, a common radio frequency will be shared.
The system will use mobile in-vehicle radios as well as hand-held portable units for personnel in the field.
"In order for portables to be able to reach the system, there is a requirement for towers to be located within a certain distance from the portables," he said. Computer modeling shows the optimal locations for the towers. "Because of the terrain and because of the frequencies that we are using, we will need a minimum of ten sites," for the towers.
The project will use several sites already in place, or improve existing sites. An existing tower site on Quirak Mountain near the County's northeastern border was recently purchased, and a new tower is under construction at the Elliott Parkway building that will house the 9-1-1 Communications Dispatch Center.
The public meeting on March 26th will provide information on the system and the tower site at Sandy hook.
"What we will do, and what we have done, is we are following the process step-by-step, we are going by the book, to make sure that we meet all the requirements," Loewenheim said. "Most of the sites are existing, or are near sites that are existing, and have already gone through that process."
Goal of the system, Loewenheim said, is to provide radio coverage countywide for all public safety and government operations.

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