Onondaga County: New 911 system rolls out

Onondaga County is taking on the largest public safety project in more than 15 years.

The current 911 communications system is being replaced by a newer, sophisticated and digitally computerized network, referred to as an interoperable communications network, and the roll out has finally begun. It is expected to be complete by April.

The city of Syracuse changed from its old network to the new UHF system with 525 replacement radios early morning Feb. 2, said 911 Commissioner John Balloni -- at 4 a.m. to be exact. The city was already communicating on a UHF analog system, so the transition played out smoothly, he added.

Now, the countywide changeover is focusing on rolling out the new system to all remaining village and town police departments by early March. Fire departments and emergency medical services will switch over sometime in April, Balloni said. The county-owned equipment goes to all emergency first responding agencies, including East-area suburbs Manlius, Fayetteville, Minoa, DeWitt and East Syracuse.

"Some towns and villages that don't have a police agency or fire district won't get them," Balloni said, adding radios will instead go to the agencies working directly for those municipalities.

For almost two decades, the 911 Center communicated through multiple channels. Police, fire and other emergency agencies used different frequencies and bandwidths to communicate, which on occasion posed problems. The 911 dispatcher would have to patch calls through by transmitting conversations to another frequency. This method caused delays and static and while it allowed the center to get by, it wasn't the ideal way to operate, Balloni said in a 2008 Eagle Bulletin interview.

The new system streamlines communication by using 15 pairs of frequencies that are all in the same UHF range, enabling multiple agencies to speak directly to one another if needed, without the hassle of patching calls. Other advancements to this $34 million dollar effort, passed by the state Legislature in December 2007, include major improvements with radio clarity and a vast decrease of dead spots, or pockets of dead air, where radios couldn't communicate with one another.

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