County Unveils Emergency Radio System Overhaul

MIDDLESEX COUNTY – Middlesex County Freeholder Mildred S. Scott, chairperson of the county’s Law and Public Safety Committee, was joined by county and local public safety officials in unveiling the county’s new radio system that improves the reliability, security and effectiveness of emergency radio communications on a daily basis and in the event of any large-scale crisis.

Scott was joined by Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan, County Fire Marshal Michael Gallagher, County OEM Coordinator Rory Zach and local police chiefs, and fire and emergency medical services personnel, who showed their support for the system upgrades at an event held last week at the Middlesex County Fire Academy in Sayreville.


“Not only did we upgrade to an 800 MHz system to ensure reliable, secure and effective communication, we connected our three mutual aid channels into it, providing 27 police departments, 50 fire departments and 58 emergency medical service agencies the ability to talk directly and instantaneously to the county and to one another on the same channel,” said Scott. “By completing this project, we created a much stronger system which leads to a more effective, better coordinated response.”

“Radio communication is the lifeline for police officers, and without it, even routine tasks can be hazardous,” said Kaplan. “There was a time when various law enforcement agencies in the county could not speak to each other because their radios were not in close proximity or were on different frequencies.”

Scott said the 800 MHz system and its municipal connections address the concerns raised in the report from the 9-11 Commission, which found that radio communications failed during and immediately after the terrorist events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“No one could talk to anyone else, adding to the chaos and stress of the day,” she said.

Scott said the work was completed at no cost to the towns. She explained that $4 million in county capital funding and about $1 million in federal Homeland Security grants paid for the projects.

Scott said the county will continue its support of the system, increase its capacity and offer municipalities the opportunity to join the county’s system.

The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that by Jan. 1, 2013, all non-federal public safety licenses must migrate to narrowband channels, meaning most systems currently in use in Middlesex County towns will have to be modified or replaced. Individual towns are facing replacement costs of more than $1 million each.

By joining the county’s 800 MHz system, individual towns can avoid switching to narrowbanding. Though towns will have to pay to convert to the 800 MHZ system, the county will maintain the system and towns will not have to pay the high replacement costs involved with the FCC regulations.

“We see this as a great shared service opportunity,” Scott said. “By joining our system, our municipal public safety agencies can expand their radio coverage, increase their capability, comply with the pending regulations and save money.”

South Plainfield is the first town transitioning to the county system. Others are testing the system now and will be deciding over the next six months, she said.

Other advantages to joining the county’s system include:

  • County-Wide In-Building Portable Coverage
  • No need for municipalities to maintain their own infrastructure.
  • Makes agencies more attractive to receive shared services grants.
  • Makes agencies more attractive to receive Homeland Security interoperability grants.
  • Although a using agency will be part of the county system, each agency can have autonomy and privacy by turning a knob.
  • Using agencies will no longer have to lease phone lines, build microwave systems or provide connectivity for their radio systems.  Example (A T-1 leased telephone line can cost over $400 per month.)

Middlesex County Freeholder Mildred S. Scott (center) is surrounded by police chiefs from throughout the county during a press conference unveiling the county’s new emergency radio system, which provides all local police departments, fire departments and emergency medical service agencies the ability to talk directly and instantaneously to the county and to one another on the same channel.

Photo courtesy of Middlesex County

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