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Sheriff proposes new communication system

WATKINS GLEN—Sheriff  Bill Yessman has proposed a new communications system for Schuyler County.
A new wireless system would provide redundancy to automatically prevent the kind of system failure that occurred Dec. 20 (please see details below), said Bill Kennedy, Schuyler’s emergency management director. 
“There would be several towers tied together with an IP (Internet Protocol) backbone,” he said. “It would require about 400 new radios.”
Yessman said the new system under consideration is the best way to improve public safety and get services to the locations where they are needed.
“Now we have everything from the microwave link tower on Terry Hill to an antenna on a telephone pole in Tyrone,” Yessman said.
County Legislator Stewart Field, who chairs the legislature’s Public Safety Committee, is a backer of the proposed new system.
“It looks like this is going to be the way to go,” Field said. “It’s just a matter of getting funding and putting it out for bids.”
Over a 10-year period—the likely life of the new technology—the new system would cost about $3 million, Kennedy said.
Potential sources of funding include grants and Homeland Security funds, Kennedy said.
“Our hope is the county can fund the initial equipment purchase,” Yessman said.
Field estimated it could be next year before the project is under way.
“It would definitely make this a much more efficient county,” Field said.
Yessman and Bill Kennedy recalled the system’s  failure from this last December. 
Kennedy said the public and news media were not notified of the Dec. 20 outage because it created no public safety problems.
“There was no risk to the public,” Kennedy said. 
Dec. 20 (the Saturday before Christmas), without any warning, the entire Schuyler County emergency communications system communication crashed.
Dispatchers in Watkins Glen could not contact police officers, fire departments,  ambulance services or highway crews because of a failure in the county’s main microwave tower on Terry Hill, off Beardsley Hollow Road in Chemung County.
Because the roads were snow-covered—about eight inches would fall—it was impossible to get the county’s 39-foot emergency communications trailer to the tower site immediately.
So Bill Kennedy took his own pickup truck to the tower site and hooked up equipment there to the radios in his truck.
From about 9 p.m. Saturday until the following morning, when the roads could be cleared enough to move in the trailer, Kennedy handled emergency communications for the entire county out of his pickup truck.
When the mobile command center arrived, staffed with Sheriff’s Department employees, it took over dispatching duties from Kennedy. It would be the following Tuesday evening before repairs were completed to the tower.
“We never had an outage of that length before,” said Sheriff Bill Yessman.
Once the trailer was in place, emergency calls were taken in Watkins Glen and relayed by cell phone to Terry Hill, where dispatchers contacted the appropriate agencies.
“We had structure fires, motor-vehicle accidents and general police activity,” Kennedy said.
The whole process was seamless to the public, but underscored the need to upgrade the county’s communications system, Yessman said.
“We are at a point now where we have to move forward,” he said.
The new system—still in the planning stages—would allow all elements of the county’s emergency forces to communicate directly with each other.


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