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Fayette, Somerset to join first responder radio network

| Monday, June 9, 2014, 1:06 a.m.

Two more counties plan to join Armstrong and two other counties' Inter-County Radio System to provide unified communication lines for emergency responders.

This year, Fayette and Somerset counties plan to start using the Inter-County Radio System, a regional radio network that allows first responders to communicate directly with each other across countylines, joining Armstrong, Westmoreland and Indiana counties. Their participation will lower the annual cost of maintenance and software upgrades, said Armstrong County 911 coordinator Ron Baustert.

The Inter-County Radio System's warranty through Motorola, which covers system maintenance and software upgrades, expires next year. The counties plan to share the cost of the annual upgrades, and Armstrong expects to pay $340,000 annually. If more counties join the program, Baustert said, the price will drop for each county.

On Thursday, Armstrong County officials adopted a charter and governance documents, which the three participating counties developed, setting rules and cost-sharing measures for the radio system.

“We're excited to see the system grow, since it started with just Armstrong and Westmoreland counties,” Baustert said. “There are already othercounties looking into the program, so this could very well become a radio network serving all of Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

The system relies on 800 MHz digital radios and 14 high-powered communication towers throughout each county.

Armstrong County started using the Inter-County Radio System last June. The system provides all emergency responders in the counties with the same radio system.

“There are common channels for everyone to use for major incidents, and it makes it easier to communicate with other responders, no matter their discipline,” Baustert said. “With our old system, we maybe had 50 percent coverage, but now, we're experiencing 99.7 percent coverage across the county.”

Baustert said officials began building the radio system in 2010, and started using it last June.

He said the new system allows for better communication between all emergency officials, especially along the county lines.

“We interface every single day with other departments across the county lines,” Baustert said.

“Now, they're all able to talk to each other, when they couldn't before.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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