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The emergency radio communications system Westmoreland has relied upon since 1999 is in immediate need of a refurbishment and the result is the county supervisors’ Oct. 12 approval of a $105,000 expenditure not listed in the local government’s current operating budget.

The emergency radio communication system used by law enforcement and emergency services relies on communication towers and the Carmel Church unit that serves the county’s lower end now has an electrical back-up unit that has failed. Spare parts cannot be obtained because the

unit’s manufacturer went out of business several years ago.

County Administrator Norm Risavi told the supervisors he had been advised of the problem on Sept. 5, when the facility maintenance provider was making an assessment in order to document expenditures that would be considered in the FY 2012-2013 Westmoreland County budget.

Risavi explained that he was told a Global Position System (GPS) unit had a back-up unit that failed.

“That leaves one unit to serve the Carmel Church site,” Risavi told the board of supervisors. “If that unit fails, the site would cease operating for all sheriff, fire and rescue services.

“These units are approximately 12 years old and are no longer manufactured. Moreover, Motorola switched to a different standard in 2005 and ended repairs of the existing units on June 31, 2011. It is not possible to purchase a new unit to only serve the Carmel Church site and replace the others at a later time. The new technology does not interface with the old technology.”

The obsolescence wasn’t unanticipated. As Risavi explained, the county has $470,895 in a contingency account dedicated exclusively to the budget’s emergency radio communications line item.

Risavi urged the supervisors “to make a quick decision on replacement in order to avoid an interruption in our emergency communications.”

Replacement units for each of the locality’s three towers will be bought. Radios currently in use will not be affected by the introduction of new back-up equipment at the communication towers. Similar upgrades have already been introduced in Essex and King George, Risavi told the members of the Board.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Woody Hynson expressed frustration that a system component was already obsolete. Vice Chairman Darryl Fisher shared Hynson’s frustration but conceded the need to yield to the reality of the period’s rapid technological advances.

“We have to adapt,” said Fisher. “The public’s safety is at stake.”

“And we don’t have a choice,” responded Hynson.

No one disagreed about the urgent need. The Board delivered a unanimous vote authorizing Risavi to immediately purchase electrical back-up units for all three of the county’s emergency communications towers.

Betsy Ficklin

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