LOCKPORT – Niagara County’s new $10 million emergency radio system is expected to come on line this fall, Fire Coordinator Jonathan F. Schultz said last week. Previously, officials had said they hoped to have it done by the end of the year.
It’s the largest part of security upgrades planned by the county, including improvements to building protections, County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said.
The county’s new radio system was in part inspired by a Federal Communications Commission mandate to localities to make sure their emergency voice and data transmissions took up as little room on the broadcast spectrum as possible, a concept called “narrowbanding.”
But the county took advantage of that mandate to buy new portable radios for every first responder in the county and construct new radio towers to improve coverage.
“We’re excited to get that interoperability going,” Schultz said.
Existing antennas will be renovated at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital and Upper Mountain Fire Company in Lewiston and at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. New towers will be built at Terry’s Corners Fire Company in Royalton, next to the City of Lockport composting plant, at the county voting machine storage site in Newfane, and next to the North Tonawanda Fire Department headquarters on Erie Avenue.
The county also will install a backup dispatching center in the basement of that building. Schultz said an emergency power generator will be moved there from the Philo J. Brooks County Office Building in Lockport.
That generator was installed a few years ago to protect the county’s computer center in the Brooks Building. Last week, the County Legislature voted to use homeland security grant money to buy a $124,000 generator to back up the entire Brooks Building, not just the Information Technology Department.
The county had a $200,000 homeland security grant that it hadn’t spent. Glatz said it was earmarked for a security plan for county buildings that dated back to his predecessor, Gregory D. Lewis.
“The feds were saying, ‘You had a plan. You need to start implementing it,’ ” Glatz said.
William Rutland, head of the county’s blue-collar union, whose contract bargaining isn’t going anywhere, criticized the Brooks Building security plan.
“I’m not aware of anyone running around threatening public officials,” he said. “We already have a fortified bunker at Public Safety for the dispatchers. … [IT Director] Larry Helwig can get whatever he wants, but for the unions, there’s a fiscal crisis.”
Glatz, whose office is in the Brooks Building, said the backup dispatching center clearly needed an emergency generator. “Rather than buy a new generator that would be the same size as the one here, we would move the backup generator from IT to North Tonawanda,” he said. “We felt that was a very good use of taxpayers’ money.”
The rest of the $200,000 grant will be used in part for systems to restrict access to county offices through swipe cards and doors that require visitors to ring for admittance. Such doors have already been installed at the Legislature clerk’s office.
Glatz said bulletproof glass for the Brooks Building was part of the plan, but has been rejected as too expensive.
However, the county will be buying four “smart boards” for the Brooks Building, the County Jail, the dispatch center in the Public Safety Training Facility and the Trott Access Center in Niagara Falls.
These 50-inch touchscreens can be used for video conferencing and also can be connected to a computer to enable users to call up a file from anywhere in the county system, Schultz said.