EMS paging switched to new $3.5 million system

Commissioners say changeover will improve efficiency and meet federal mandate

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

The new pagers are similar in appearance to the old ones, but the reduced bandwidth of the system should improve efficiency, county officials said.

A new $3.5 million emergency-services paging system became operational Tuesday morning – an advance that improves communications and meets new federal requirements, the  Chester County Commissioners announced in a press release.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the Chester County Department of Emergency Services switched fire and emergency medical services’ (EMS) voice-alert paging to a new system to meet Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirements, the release said.

The FCC ordered radio communications devices in certain portions of the Very High Frequency (VHF) band to reduce channel bandwidth from 25 Kilohertz (KHz) to 12.5 KHz. This “narrowbanding” process will allow more efficient use of radio spectrum and is required to be completed throughout the nation by January 1, the release said.

Patty Mains, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Emergency Services, said the transition was similar to going from one computer system to another. “It went very smoothly,” she said, describing the changeover .

Mains explained that the routine for emergency responders remains unchanged. They simply have pagers that are “a bit shinier” than the old ones. However, the new system should improve efficiency in the long run, she said.

The commissioners said over $500,000, obtained through a federal grant, will help offset the total cost. East Brandywine Fire Company sponsored the grant application on behalf of the Chester County Fire Chief’s Association and the Chester County EMS Council. Congressman Jim Gerlach supported the award of the grant.

Chester County Commissioners’ Chairman Terence Farrell applauded the compliance with federal regulations, and Commissioner Kathi Cozzone noted that the investment “keeps Chester County at the forefront of technology” and safety. “The $3 million remaining cost for the new system is a necessary investment for upgrading our equipment, to ensure our emergency responders are working with reliable technologies for decades to come,” said Commissioner Ryan Costello.

Chester County’s Department of Emergency Services has been working on this project for more than one year, consulting with the county’s emergency responder community for the design and testing phases of the new system, the release said.

Chester County Fire Chief’s Association president Ray Stackhouse said that he appreciated the cooperative approach used in planning the project, which used emergency responders in the design and testing phases to ensure the system meets operational requirements.


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