Jefferson County is preparing to spend up to $89,900 in federal money to begin the process of upgrading its aging public safety communications system.
After considering several proposals, the county has determined Blue Wing Services Inc., a St. Paul, Minn., communications consultant, will help it coordinate an overhaul of what has been described by Jefferson County Director of Fire and Emergency Management Joseph D. Plummer as a hodgepodge of different systems rife with deficiencies and problems.
The Blue Wing study is simply the first in a series of steps that will bring the county up to speed with state-of-the-art emergency management systems, according to Mr. Plummer.
Phases one and two, which will focus on diagnosing problems with the system and suggesting solutions, will be covered by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
The county will pay for the new systems implementation, which will allow law enforcement officers to communicate seamlessly with firefighters, EMS and other emergency management professionals.
One of the new systems aims is to allow the agencies to talk with the Highway Department and other entities in the county that may not fall under the traditional heading of emergency service providers.
In the event of a natural disaster, everybody has to be able to talk to everybody else, Mr. Plummer said.
In July, Jefferson County joined six nearby counties in a network called the Central New York Interoperable Communications Consortium, which allows the sharing of resources and coordination of effort in a disaster. Onondaga, Oswego, Cayuga, Madison, Cortland and Lewis counties are also in the consortium. Grant money is now often tied to participation in a consortium, Mr. Plummer said.
The changeover is being steered by an ad hoc committee of legislators appointed by Board of Legislators Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown.
Legislator Anthony J. Doldo, R-Watertown, a first-term board member, is heading the committee and is joined by veteran Legislators Barry M. Ormsby, R-Belleville, chairman of the Planning and Development Committee, and Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, chairman of the General Services Committee.
Lawmakers selected Blue Wing from among eight companies that submitted proposals because it has worked with Jefferson County and other consortium counties before, is familiar with Canadian frequencies and is charging roughly half what others were asking, according to Mr. Doldo.
The system really needs an upgrade and the extent of that will be based on Blue Wings recommendations, he said.
The resolution authorizing Blue Wing to move forward with the study will go before the General Services Committee tonight. If approved, it will be seen by the Finance and Rules Committee before the full board votes on it next month.
Theres a lot of homework being done by a lot of people, Mr. Plummer said. We need a system thats going to last us through the years. Its important to get it right.
Though the estimated size and cost of the project wont be fully understood until the Blue Wing study is complete, Mr. Plummer said, We know this is going to be a big project. Theres no doubt, whatever avenue we go, this will be a big-dollar purchase.
But communicating with the public in the event of a major disaster is likely to be much cheaper.
At a recent event, Mr. Plummer learned Orange County Emergency Management used its Facebook page, which had 8,979 likes as of Monday, to communicate information to people during Hurricane Sandy, including calls for assistance and updates on road closures and gasoline rationing.
Departmental Facebook pages can also be used to alert residents to the location of food and water stations.
Social media is where its at, Mr. Plummer said. And the best part is its free.
The Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/pages/Jefferson-County-NY-Fire-Emergency-Management/107131116070564.