Delaware County to update 911 system

By Perry Russom

September 4, 2013 Updated Sep 4, 2013 at 12:03 AM EDT

Delhi, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Delaware County officials describe the county's current emergency communications system as "unreliable."

"Our fire and emergency medical services folks are often operating calls where they don't have communications capabilities," said Richard Bell, the county's director of Emergency Services.

The system is what first responders use to talk to the communications center in Delhi and the 911 center in Sidney.

They can relay updated information on an emergency situation or request for backup. But with spotty service, the message is sometimes never heard.

Bell said what makes communication in the county even more challenging is the mountainous terrain.

The radio system currently used by first responders is 60 to 70 percent reliable, Bell said. But the new system is said to be 95 percent reliable or better.

The new system is estimated to cost $15 million, although some of it will be offset by state and federal grants. It's not yet known what the local share of the cost will be.

"We'll be out there doing our job, but this is a tool that will by far enhance our capability," said Bell.

Throughout the county, older communication towers will be replaced with new ones. It will increase the range of the emergency calls and the amount of channels on which first responders can communicate. The number of towers will also double.

"It's certainly going to be a great asset to have and one that's been needed for some time," said Bell.

Bell said the new system would have drastically changed emergency communication between first responders when Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee hit the county two years ago.

"There wasn't enough airtime for (emergency relief) to talk," said Bell. "Interoperability was nearly non-existent between agencies that came in from out of county."

The system is expected to be up and running by 2015.