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Sheriff's Office communications system to be upgraded

A $300,000 grant will set the stage for an upgrade of the communications system at the Niagara County's Sheriff's Office dispatching center, Chief Deputy Thomas Beatty said Tuesday.

Beatty told the County Legislature's Administration Committee that the grant -- federal money funneled through the state Department of Homeland Security -- will help pave the way for the "next generation" of 911 calls.

Beatty said technical breakthroughs on the horizon are expected to include the ability for people to send text messages and cellphone photos of suspects to 911 call centers.

"It doesn't exist yet. It's being developed as we speak," Beatty said.

The $300,000, which is to be spent over the next 2 1/2 years, will be used to purchase new computers to back up the dispatching equipment, Beatty said.

In a related matter, the committee approved the use of more than $2.2 million in Homeland Security grants for the county's new emergency radio system.

Fire Coordinator and Emergency Management Director Jonathan F. Schultz said more than $1.65 million left over from past grants will be applied to the new "narrowbanding" project and the purchase of new portable radios for police and firefighters across the county.

A new $611,000 civil defense grant also will be plowed into the new radio system, Schultz said.

"Narrowbanding" refers to a Federal Communications Commission order that emergency radio transmissions must be compressed into less space on the broadcast spectrum by Jan. 1.

The county hired Motorola Systems to construct the new system at a cost not to exceed $10 million. Late in 2011, the county was approved for a $2 million grant from the state's cellphone surcharge that was earmarked for the project.

In other business Tuesday, the committee approved a $113,918 contract with Witt Associates of Washington, D.C., to develop a new county emergency communications plan, including a multi-agency training assessment, and a plan for protecting critical infrastructure.

County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said the Witt firm, which replied last August to a request for proposals, is doing similar work for Onondaga County.

Also, he said Witt compiled the Erie County "after-action" report for the February 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center.

The planning is meant to supplement the county's strategic security plan, last updated in 2007.

The Administration Committee also approved the release of $750,000 to Niagara County Community College as the second half of the county's $1.5 million commitment toward the construction of the $30.6 million NCCC culinary arts institute.

That project is scheduled to open in September in the former Rainbow Centre Mall in downtown Niagara Falls.