Lebanon County commissioners took two major steps on Thursday to upgrade the county’s obsolete public safety radio system.

They unanimously approved the purchase of nearly 2,000 field radios at a cost of $12.95 million for the county’s Department of Emergency Services (DES). The contract includes, in addition to 1,989 radios, batteries, cases, chargers and equipment installation.

In the second action, the commissioners approved an agreement for $667,671 with State College-based MCM Consulting Group Inc. to manage the implementation of the new radio technology.

In a letter to the commissioners, DES director Bob Dowd wrote that, while the 19-year-old system has “worked well, it is no longer a supported technology, making it a challenge to maintain, expand, or repair. Due to the technology being end-of-life, it also forces first responders to buy used and dated equipment should they need to replace or add radios.” 

The new radios will predominantly be distributed to fire company personnel as well as police officers, county Emergency Management Services workers, a few local municipalities, hospital security staff, and the county’s prison and probation departments, among others.

“Bottom line, there will be a radio for every first responder in Lebanon County,” noted Dowd. “The majority of the radios, around 800, will go to fire service.”

The new radio system, which is being provided by Florida-based L3Harris, will “ensure the safety and effectiveness of the county’s first responders and other public safety entities.” 

“This upgrade will bring in a modern system that is designed based on public safety standards and best practices,” wrote Dowd. “It will ensure critical communications are supported by a robust, secure, and redundant infrastructure.”

Dowd told the commissioners that the final cost matched the project cost, and added that $5.99 million will be paid with American Rescue Plan Act funds distributed by the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic with the remainder coming from a 2021 bond that was issued by the county.

Dowd said the all-digital radio system, which is designed with 13 towers and a refreshed pager system, will operate on the P25 Phase 2 standard, ensuring ease of interoperability and broad radio compatibility, providing outdoor coverage for 95 percent of the county. (The system blankets all areas of the county except the mountainous areas of Cold Spring Township in the northeast.)

“The industry goal is for 95 percent coverage over 95 percent of the time, so we are there,” said Dowd. 

A major enhancement is first responders from other counties will be able to communicate with county-based first responders, which didn’t happen previously given the proprietary nature of the old radio system.

“The system has been designed with additional interoperability sites, ensuring that first responders providing mutual aid to Lebanon County will be able to communicate with us using any radio, no longer requiring them to have Lebanon County-specific equipment,” wrote Dowd. 

In addition to managing the implementation of the new radio system, MCM will also supervise any new tower construction or any modifications connected to it. 

“MCM has been a great partner of ours for a long time,” said Dowd. “They’ve done excellent work, they’re very familiar with our equipment and our systems, and I think they’re going to do an excellent job with this.”  

In a separate action item related to DES, the commissioners approved two change orders totaling $13,437 for roofing and spouting and a partition for the construction of the new 911 Center. Dowd noted that the county built $2 million in contingency costs into the price of the $39 million 911 Center.

Read More: Commissioners vote to acquire 10 acres in North Cornwall for 911 Center

Read More: County commissioners discuss plans for $36 million 911 center in North Cornwall

In other action, the commissioners approved a $400,000 grant application for the Lebanon Valley Rails-to-Trails Phase 10A project in Union Township. The county’s commitment, which will use ARPA funding, will be matched by state Department of Natural Resources’ and LVRT private funding to cover the total projected cost of $800,000.

The project will construct a new trail on the former towpath of the Union Canal, noted LVRT representative Tom Kotay. “This .6-mile project will run from just north of U.S. Route 22 to Pine Tree Road in Union Township,” said Kotay.

The commissioners also voted to accept liquid fuel tax requests from the following municipalities:

  • Myerstown Borough: General road maintenance, $3,062
  • North Lebanon Township: Purchase road salt, $34,230
  • South Lebanon Township: Purchase road salt, $14,700
  • Jonestown Borough: General road maintenance, $1,905
  • Richland Borough, General road maintenance, $1,519

In other business, the commissioners voted to:

  • Name Becky Woodhouse to a three-year term on the Lebanon County Commission for Women.  
  • Grant four 100 percent disabled military personnel tax exemption requests.
  • Proclaim April as Pennsylvania 811 Safe Digging Month.
  • Approve the treasurer’s report, the minutes of the March 3 meeting and numerous personnel transactions.  
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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...