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Lockport urged by state to join emergency communications net

The Common Council received a sales pitch Wednesday for the city to join the state's new emergency communications system.

The Statewide Wireless Network is a new radio system which, when it is completed in 2010, is supposed to enable all state agencies to communicate with each other by voice and data without having to worry about whether their radios are compatible. A demand for such "interoperability" among agencies resulted from analysis of the response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Joseph Stein, a representative of MaCom, the Lowell, Mass., company hired by the state to build the new system, said local police and fire agencies are being asked to join the system. It is voluntary, but participation would give the local agencies the ability to communicate with all other participants throughout the state.
Stein said there will be no charge to share radio towers with the state, but there will be a charge for tie-ins to the network itself. The full features of the network are available only to those who agree to "Level 3" partnership, which will require most local agencies that join to buy new radio equipment. That is because the system uses a new set of radio frequencies on a higher band than police and fire departments customarily use.
Police Lt. Scott Seekins said the city's base and repeater radios date from 1984. Half of the radios in police cars are also 22 years old, while some were replaced five or six years ago. Some patrol officers have nearly new portable radios; others are five years old, while detectives are using 10-year-old portables.
Christopher Johnson, a project manager for the state Office of Technology, said President Bush ordered all states in 2004 to begin working on radio interoperability. "New York State is already several years ahead," Johnson said. "Shovels are in the ground now."
The state is building its system from the eastern and western ends of the state, working toward Central New York from both directions. New towers in Erie and Chautauqua counties are to be tested in June, and construction is to begin in the rest of Western New York right after that.
MaCom's contract calls for it to maintain the new system for 20 years and provide new software to keep local units current at state expense. "To our way of thinking, there's a lot of advantage to the city," Stein said. "All you have to do is get your mobiles and portables upgraded."
No one at Wednesday's meeting had an estimate of how much it would cost for Lockport to join. Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda and Middleport have also reportedly shown interest in the statewide network.
Police Chief Neil B. Merritt said he would like the Council to pass a resolution of interest. Mayor Michael W. Tucker said he thinks Lockport should consider a full Level 3 membership.
"I think it's good," he said. "It's been a long time coming."
Niagara County is a Level 2 partner, meaning the state will provide a technical "gateway" at the Sheriff's Office dispatching unit to connect with other participating agencies on the wireless network.
Johnson said the state prefers to work with counties, but James Ramsay, a MaCom systems technologist, said Lockport could go to Level 3 even if the county didn't. He said that would be true even if Lockport turned over all its dispatching to the Sheriff's Office, a move that has been discussed for several years but never implemented.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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