New EMT Radio System in NW Pennsylvania Falls Short of Expectations


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After a long wait, emergency responders in northwestern Pennsylvania finally got a new radio system, but users across the region have encountered performance issues, reports Police and rescue personnel first discussed the need for a better radio system back in 1985, so the $26.5 million upgrade was met with high expectations. Erie County’s new Next Generation Public Safety Radio System replaced a hodgepodge of mismatched equipment, but communications are still problematic. 

In some areas, the new system has received rave reviews, in others, radios within several feet of each other struggled to pick up signals. Some of the radio problems were easier to diagnose, like farmland or terrain locations with no nearby towers. Other issues were attributable to interference with nearby Canadian signals, a simulcast sent out on the wrong frequencies, and a misplaced antenna. 

Erie County Director of Public Safety John Grappy has been in talks with contractor EF Johnson to get the trouble spots addressed and corrected as quickly as possible. “The concerns expressed in the most recent correspondence from our first responders are valid, and county officials share the concerns,” Grappy stated. “We have consistently expressed the sense of urgency to resolve the coverage issues.”  EF Johnson installed the Next Generation Public Radio System system for Erie County and has been working to fix the issues at its own expense. Fixes so far have included new antennas, relocated antennas, and requests for additional licenses. 

Despite the issues, Grappy noted that the new system is still better than what the county had before, though it currently falls short of the “95 percent coverage, 95 percent of the time” project goal. Coronavirus has also been a factor, slowing down the delivery of component pieces that are needed to make all the mechanical aspects operational. 

Proving that the radio improvement has been successful in many ways, James Rosenbaum, assistant fire chief for the West Ridge Volunteer Fire Department in Millcreek Township and chairman of the Erie County Public Safety Advisory Committee stated: “The improvement in communication has been phenomenal. We can communicate directly with the neighboring departments that we’re dispatched to assist,” he added. “Prior to this, we were on a mixture of different frequencies. Some we had access to, some we didn’t.”  

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