A plan to replace emergency and public service radio towers around Ocean County and begin implementing a federally-mandated change to a new frequency is nearly complete, county officials said at Wednesday’s meeting of the freeholder board.
“We’ve now virtually finished that project,” said Freeholder Jack Kelly. “We’ve done a lot of upgrades including five additional towers and upgrading six more to fill holes.”
The most ambitious portion of the project, though, was installing Motorola hardware that will allow the county to dispatch and carry communications on the 700MHz band. Most county agencies operate on the 400-500MHz band now, and some local agencies remain in the 100MHz frequency range. By 2023, a new federal law mandates an upgrade to the 700MHz band – which also means police scanners that do not reach the higher frequencies will be rendered largely useless. Police communications in many communities is already encrypted and unavailable to the public.
“We’re not mandating that every municipality go out and buy new radios immediately,” said Kelly, but Motorola has said they will offer programs to towns that will replace equipment on a payment plan.
Over 2,000 portable and mobile radios have been updated for county personnel. Some local departments dispatch themselves while other contract with the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department. Regardless, every 911 call in Ocean County is routed to the sheriff’s department first, which either directly dispatches the call or hands it over to the local dispatcher to manage.
The new towers also filled in “dead spots” around the county, and a test by Motorola in numerous locations found a 100 percent pass rate. It is inevitable that some will be found over time, however.
“Once the system is in operation and people are out utilizing the radios and the system, once we identify any dead areas, Motorola has committed to find solutions to those issues,” said Deputy County Administrator Michael J. Fiure.
Other technology upgrades were included in the $22.8 million project. The upgrade also includes new software that will allow central dispatchers at the Sheriff’s department to communicate with other public safety agencies such as the warrants division, crime scene investigators, the prosecutor’s office, corrections, local police dispatchers and even public works officials – a necessity in an emergency similar to Superstorm Sandy. The new system will include GIS mapping, computer aided dispatch, mobile access in the field and records management capability.
The purchase also included a new mass spectrometer for the CSI division of the Sheriff’s department which will alleviate a significant backlog that has crept up in recent years as there has been an increase in drug cases, coupled with the slower, older technology included in the current mass spectrometer. A mass spectrometer is a device that can identify molecules in objects or substances such as a drug in order to tell what the substance is made out of.
The new equipment will also lead to savings, as about $100,000 of investigative work that is now outsourced can be brought back in-house, officials said.