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New Armstrong 911 center ready to begin operations

| Friday, June 29, 2012, 8:29 p.m.
The new Armstrong County 911 building near the Armsdale Center in Rayburn Township is coming along on schedule. Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times

The Armstrong County Department of Public Safety's new Emergency Operations and 911 Center building and 14 radio towers will soon be operational.

The 5,200 square-foot building at the county's Armsdale property along Route 85 in Rayburn is built and awaiting the installation of radio equipment, along with broadband network and fiber optics, before a move can be made there from the courthouse annex building in Kittanning. In addition, 12 of 14 rural radio towers around the county are up and ready to go.

Officials expect the entire communications system to be fully ready to use by the end of the year. That's when they will move into the new facility.

The facility will give the county a more secure place to plan its response to disasters and handle day-to-day dispatching of fire, police and emergency medical services.

"We will have a dedicated communications and disaster preparedness and planning facility," said Randy Brozenick, county emergency management director. "The improvement gives us a more hardened facility -- meaning it can withstand flooding, tornados or other things. Everything is at a more secure location that's a better suited area, away by itself where it wouldn't be as likely affected. There's backup power. It's everything we don't have now."

The total project, which is in three parts -- radio equipment, broadband and the building -- cost $21 million. The building project alone cost about $3 million, some of which was funded by a $1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The county issued a bond for the remainder of the costs.

In addition to housing the EOC, 911 and administrative offices, the building will be home to a new radio system connected to other counties.

The county also will transition to a new megahertz system -- high-frequency 800 megahertz channels and fiber optics.

The new multi-county public safety radio system and broadband network will better support local first responders and enhance communications, officials said.

"The responders are going to have a lot better coverage. They'll all be able to communicate to each other," said Brozenick. "It's going to enhance everything going on. It's better protection all around for the public."

The 14 radio towers to support the new system are going up on schedule, according to Ron Baustert, county 911 coordinator .

Nine sites around the county where there is an existing tower have been modified to meet the system's standards. Three of five newly-constructed towers, in the areas of Frogtown and Shady Plain are finished and on Thursday work was completed at an isolated site along Oak Road near Snyderville in Wayne Township.

Towers in the state gamelands near New Bethlehem and one near Widnoon are yet to be built.

County officials negotiated agreements with private landowners at all of the tower sites.

"This is going to provide countywide communications for all fire, police and EMS people," said Baustert. "This is state-of-the-art technology."

Baustert said the towers will not improve cellular phone service in rural areas where there is little or no coverage at this time, although commercial carriers could negotiate with the property owners. If that happens, the owners would need to renegotiate their contracts with the county, Baustert said.

"At this point the towers are just for public safety," he said.

County officials say the project is on schedule to meet a Federal Communications Commission mandate to upgrade systems to operate in narrow band mode by February.

"It's what we've been shooting for for four years," Baustert said.

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