Pa. EMS leaders chart 'road map' for future communication needs

Responders, county officials and a local technology department are creating an inventory of necessary equipment based on future needs


By Kathy Mellott
The Tribune-Democrat

EBENSBURG, Pa. — An initiative among emergency responders, county officials and the Pitt-Johnstown technology department is gathering information – and momentum.

Cambria County 911 Upgrade Committee is developing an inventory of communications equipment for fire, police and EMS departments – with expectations for what will be needed in the near future.

Steve Ettien, Cambria County chief clerk, said once those expectations are determined, attention will be shifted to learning about any federal mandates and finding the money to pay for communications enhancements.

“We need to be proactive. We need to look at what upgrades we need to do if any,” Ettien said following a meeting of the committee in the commissioners’ office Tuesday.

Emergency communications has been a priority for the commissioners.

The county has taken steps to eliminate dead zones, especially in the eastern section and parts of northern Cambria County.

An antenna is in place to improve communications in the Ashville area while another one is planned for Susquehanna Township, if grant money can be found, Ettien said.

But as the 10-year anniversary of a massive $10 million upgrade approaches in 2017, the committee aims to make conditions better for the 42 fire companies, 17 EMS agencies and 36 police departments serving Cambria County, he said.

Of that $10 million, about $9.5 million was spent on what Ettien termed “the core system,” and the committee is now looking to the needs of specific communities.

“A radio can cost $1,000, and if you need five of them, they have to hold a lot of bake sales,” he said.

Through the help of the UPJ technology department and Joseph Sernell, association vice president for information technology, a website was developed for Cambria County’s many agencies.

The site is not public, but provides key information needed by those groups.

“As we create a road map for future emergency communications needs ... we want to get important information from any agency affected,” said Bob Heffelfinger, a Richland Township supervisor, president of the Cambria County Association of Township Officials, Richland Fire Company chief and president of the 911 Fire Advisory Committee.

Heffelfinger is encouraged by the 911 upgrade committee’s efforts and praised the work by UPJ, without charge, in developing the website to collect that data from the local fire, police and EMS providers.

“They created an easy-to-use website,” he said.

“It was a job well done.”

Officials said about 50 percent of the fire, police and EMS groups are using the website and are letting the committee know how many portable radios, mobile and base units, repeaters and pagers they have.

The site, controlled through a unique secure PIN code created for every department, also provides space for comments.

“Without this information we’ll not be able to develop a solid plan in order to seek a potential revenue stream,” Heffelfinger said.

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©2014 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)

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