Jefferson County completes public safety radio project with over $15 million in savings

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WATERTOWN — Since 2012, a group of Jefferson County legislators and department officials have been working to upgrade the county’s public safety radio system.

Joseph D. Plummer, director of the county Office of Fire and Emergency Management, said the new radio system is a state-of-the-art, high-tech system that completely outpaces the system the county’s first responders have had to rely on since the 1970s.

“Its like going from tin cans and string to a cell phone,” he said. “The difference is night and day.”

Now, the $20 million dollar project, of which only $5 million had to come from Jefferson County’s coffers, is up and running, and first responders across the county now have access to a radio system many generations newer than the past.

“We were basically using 1950s technology installed in the 1970s, into the 2020s,” Mr. Plummer said.

The project began in 2012 under then-Jefferson County Board Chair Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, who formed a committee of county elected officials and senior staff to replace the aging, traditional point-to-point infrastructure the county had been using for more than 40 years. A decision was made to install what’s formally called a P25 UHF trunked radio system, and $24 million was authorized to be spent on the project.

A trunked radio system relies on a central computer to designate channels of communication, whereas a traditional radio system has set channels on which to communicate. The result of this new system is much wider bands of communication, on which first responders will find easy access to a signal in 97% of locations in Jefferson County, and much more bandwidth to communicate with more departments and across agencies.

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