MAHONING COUNTY Officials begin 911 upgrade

Consultants said the county's radio equipment is 'living on borrowed time.'
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County officials have started what will be a four-year process to upgrade the county's aging 911 communication system.
Officials from RCC Consultants met Tuesday with representatives of police, fire and ambulance agencies to talk about the upgrade, which is expected to be completed in September 2006.
Commissioners hired the Edwardsville, Ill., company last year to direct an overhaul of the system. RCC will be paid $326,500.
Bob Sutphen, RCC Midwest regional manager, said the county's system badly needs revamping because its central headquarters is much too small and its equipment is outdated.
"It's past its life cycle and living on borrowed time," Sutphen said. "I'd hate to even move it across the room, let alone into a new center."
Project manager Bernie Cowardin said the first step will be for RCC to meet individually with all the agencies that use the county system. They will assess the agency's equipment and talk about any needs the agency has for an upgraded system.
Once that's done, RCC will develop an initial report on a specific scope of the project and present it to commissioners, who will decide whether to go forward, Cowardin said.
A cost estimate will be part of that report, which is to be completed in August.
Local centers: Sutphen and county administrator Gary Kubic stressed that the project isn't intended to shut down individual community 911 answering stations for consolidation into a central location. The local dispatching centers and their staffs will be left alone.
The project is meant to improve each agency's system so all departments across the county can communicate. Some departments can't communicate with others now because their radio signals are not strong enough or they are not on compatible radio frequencies.
RCC also will determine where radio transmission towers should be placed to help improve that communication, Cowardin said.
Some departments have complained that there are "dead spots" where they are out of radio contact with their dispatchers. Relocation of towers will eliminate that problem, Cowardin said.
Besides helping overhaul the equipment, RCC will develop specifications for a new dispatching center for county operators, who work in the county administration building on West Boardman Street.
Plans call for the new center to be up and running in mid-2005.
"I think we're looking at creating a communication pathway for the next decade," said Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock.

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