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Lewis County officials leaning toward UHF emergency radio system

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials plan to pursue a higher-frequency UHF-based emergency radio system after getting results from a study on available frequencies.

“I’m leaning toward UHF,” Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, said during a Courts and Law Committee meeting Wednesday. “It makes our interoperability stronger.”

Many surrounding counties have moved to or are moving to UHF, and having a similar system would offer cleaner connections, said Robert N. Duclos from Syracuse engineering firm C&S Cos., the county’s radio consultant.

Equipment costs for UHF systems are not significantly higher than for VHF, as they may have been in the past, and it appears that securing needed radio frequencies from the Federal Communications Commission may be less challenging in the UHF band, Mr. Duclos said.

A frequency study conducted by Langone & Associates indicated that the county likely would be able to license six pairs of frequencies on either the VHF or UHF band. However, officials at Langone noted that the study was based on an FCC database that doesn’t denote whether other counties or agencies have applied for any of the available frequencies.

Because the VHF spectrum is very crowded, consultants suggested it would be easier to secure alternate frequencies on the UHF band if some of the ones included in the report ultimately prove to be unavailable. The Langone report also indicated that four of the 12 VHF frequencies listed may require changes to the county’s current radio system plan to avoid interference.

Consultants recommended that the county utilize VHF frequencies, possibly one or more is already licensed, to cover pager communication.

Mr. King suggested the county might want to seek more than just the six pairs of frequencies in case highway and public works departments, school districts and other agencies ultimately would like to have their own bands on the county system.

“We’re better off preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” he said.

Mr. Duclos indicated that it should not be a problem and that any unused frequencies could simply be dropped by the county following the project.

He recommended that an application to the FCC be made as soon as possible because such requests also must be cleared by Canadian officials and could take up to a year to complete.

The consultant recommended that the radio project be split into six separate contracts: radio equipment, microwave equipment, towers, shelters, generators and site construction. While the county could seek bids on the complete project just from radio equipment companies, it likely would end up paying substantially more and have less control, he said.

“It’s really not as complicated as it sounds,” Mr. Duclos said.

Representatives from C&S and Langone were asked to prepare more detailed proposals for the full Legislature to consider, possibly as soon as the June 4 meeting.

County officials are eyeing a system that would include 10 or 11 towers — rather than the four now used — to vastly improve emergency coverage throughout the county.

Lewis County did not receive state Homeland Security funding for the project last year, but Mr. Duclos said completion of the frequency study and other recent legwork should make for a much stronger application this year.

A late 2011 study conducted on the county’s behalf indicated a new system would cost $6 million to $12 million, but that was estimated for a VHF-based system with eight towers.

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