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Lockport expected to accept radios 
from county for emergency system

LOCKPORT – The City of Lockport has tentatively agreed to accept Niagara County's offer of free police and fire radios, after a final negotiating session Thursday.

The Common Council is to vote on the matter Oct. 3, Mayor Michael W. Tucker said Friday. He and Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said they would advise the aldermen to allow Tucker to sign the contract.

The city had been reluctant to join the planned new countywide emergency radio system because of a variety of technical concerns and fears that the new county-funded radios would be too expensive to replace.

Each portable Motorola unit costs nearly $5,000, which is more than 10 times the replacement cost of the handheld radios currently used by Lockport first responders, Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert said. Although the county would at first provide free radios, Lockport would be responsible for replacing them in later years.

"The average life of a portable is three to five years," Eggert said. "The Council's got to be aware if they sign this, there are significant costs, starting in Year Three."

Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite said, "It's my understanding we're not going to have to give up our current system. We can always go back to the frequencies we have if we have some problems."

"It won't happen, because this is going to be a far superior system," said Thomas C. Beatty, chief deputy for the Niagara County Sheriff's Office. "[The radios] are warranteed for five years. … We've got portables out there now that are at least 15 years old."

Tucker said the county had wanted him to sign off sight unseen on the operating regulations for the new system, which he refused to do. He said the county now will permit member agencies to have a hand in drawing up those rules.

The county is spending about $10 million to buy new radios for all police officers and firefighters and to erect five new radio towers to improve communications. One of those towers is to be placed next to the Lockport composting plant just below the Niagara Escarpment.

The impetus for the improvements was the federal mandate that all emergency radio systems must take up less space on the broadcast spectrum as of Jan. 1 – the so-called "narrowbanding" mandate.

County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said the county will not meet that deadline and will apply for an extension from the Federal Communications Commission.
Michael Harper of Kimball & Associates, the county's project manager, said the new system won't be ready until next summer or fall. The county is still working through the environmental review process for the five new towers.

The new radios are meant to make all fire and police communications systems interoperable, meaning any member of any agency could talk to any other agency simply by pushing a button. "We don't really use them that often unless we have a major incident," Passuite said.

If Lockport keeps its current radios, "They won't be able to hear what everybody else is saying, because they won't have [ultra-high frequency] capabilities," Beatty said. "We'll still be able to talk to them by switching frequencies."

Eggert said Lockport could comply with the narrowbanding mandate itself by spending about $20,000 on its current system.