Press-Republican

March 3, 2013

Essex, Clinton counties to get millions in state grants

BY LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — LEWIS — Essex and Clinton counties will share millions in state funding for their public-safety radio systems.

The $2.2 million award for Essex County is part of a new round of funding to counties through the Statewide Interoperable Communications Grant program, a multi-year competitive grant supported by state cellular 911 surcharge revenue.

The request from the Essex County Office of Community Development included Clinton County, which will receive an additional $2.1 million to make its radio system compatible with the new Essex County digital network and do other upgrades.

TEAMWORK ON GRANT

Essex County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said Essex County Community Development Director Michael Mascarenas and Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish should be lauded for their work on the application.

“With the assistance of Don Jaquish and his staff, Mike Mascarenas was able to put in successful grant applications on behalf of Essex and Clinton counties,” he said. “It was a great job.”

The awards will help expand radio coverage areas within the two counties and improve the connections between their radio systems.

Jaquish said it was a highly technical, 133-page application that got them the funding. He and County Emergency Services Deputy Director/911 Coordinator Michael Blaise worked with Mascarenas to write the request.

“That was a lot of work,” Jaquish said. “The state did a point system (to score applications). We were the 29th of 29 counties to get a grant using that system.”

The State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services awarded a total $102 million in funding to the 29 counties.

AGING EQUIPMENT

Clinton County Emergency Services Director Eric Day said they’re using the grant to replace outdated system components that are in use daily.

“We have plans to replace aging existing microwave equipment that carries critical land-mobile radio communications as well as upgrade some of the backbone infrastructure components of the countywide 800 MHz trunked system.”

Their radio network is used for fire and EMS communications, the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department, County Highway, County Health Department, Plattsburgh International Airport and many local municipalities, Day said by email.

“In addition to improved capacity, the new microwave system is planned to have connectivity with the proposed Essex County system and future connections to Franklin County and other counties within the Adirondack Interoperable Communications Consortium: Franklin, Clinton, Essex, Warren, Washington, Hamilton, Fulton, Montgomery and Saratoga counties.”

Day said that will help to improve communications during large-scale events or disasters. Day said that once Mascarenas did the preliminary work they refined the application to their specific needs.

“Then each county had plenty of work, and I mean plenty, working to tailor the specific needs for our grant requests, and working with vendors and putting together labor, material, engineering and training quotes, drafting county specific scopes of work, providing county specific existing interoperability agreements and so on.”

REBAND REQUIRED

“This grant … has helped to upgrade and extend the life of the nearly 20-year-old communications system we have in Clinton County,” Day said. “The Office of Emergency Services and all of the 800 MHz radio system-user groups are currently undergoing a more than $2 million upgrade of equipment that has been driven by a radio frequency spectrum action conducted years ago by the FCC, in which Sprint-Nextel was awarded frequencies that the system currently uses.”

He said that in exchange for the frequencies for their cellular and data networks, Sprint-Nextel is required by federal mandate to reband, which means frequency conversion for existing users on the Clinton County system at no cost to the user.

“The rebanding process has driven the replacement of nearly all of the mountaintop radio transmitters, as well as nearly two-thirds of the more than 1,100 mobile and portable radios used on the system daily.”

REACTION TO ATTACKS

In Essex County, the money will be used for software, tower antennas, network switches, wiring and mobile radios, among other things, Jaquish said.

“We can use this for multiple parts of the radio project. This is much-needed funding.”

He said the application had to list each piece of equipment they needed, its cost and why it was being requested.

The program is designed to improve first-responder communications and to promote a network with state agencies like the State Police and the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

It was set up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when various New York City and state agencies could not communicate with each other on their various radio systems.

Essex County is building a $17 million digital public-safety communications system starting this spring to replace an outdated analog system that’s more than 50 years old.

Email Lohr McKinstry:

lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com