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$7.6 million contract signed for 911 system


After five years of study, Carroll officials have signed a contract to buy a $7.6 million radio system that should improve communications for emergency services personnel and other county agencies.

Officials from Motorola -- the only company to bid on the project -- were expected to sign and return the contract today, said Jay R. Nave, chairman of the county Radio Replacement Committee.

Motorola officials could not be reached yesterday for comment.

The new computerized system will replace a 30-year-old, two-way radio system that no longer can handle the volume of calls in Carroll, said Mr. Nave, administration assistant in the Bureau of Roads Operations.

"There's no more room," said Duane K. Ludwig, assistant chief of the Gamber Volunteer Fire Department and chairman of a fire chiefs' committee that was involved with the project.

"Everything starts backing up, and you have to wait your turn to use the radio," he said.

The 911 system receives an average of 89 calls per day, up from an average of 50 calls per day 10 years ago, county figures show.

County personnel now use low- and high-band frequencies and UHF frequencies, Mr. Nave said.

The new system is an 800 megahertz emergency communications system with nine channels and a computerized trunking system to route calls.

The system will allow county agencies such as roads crews, inspectors and the Health Department to communicate with emergency personnel.

"Nobody can talk to each other" now because fire, ambulance, the sheriff's department and county agencies operate on separate frequencies, which can create confusion and frustration during emergencies, Mr. Nave said.

The capability to talk with all personnel would have simplified communications during the January house explosion in Westminster, he said.

"Two channels just obviously wasn't enough," Mr. Ludwig said, referring to the number of frequencies available for fire and emergency medical communication.

General Services Director J. Michael Evans said the commissioners were taking "a major step . . . to provide a state-of-the-art communications system."

Motorola officials have said 13 months will be needed to implement the 800 MHz system, which means it should be fully functional in July 1996, Mr. Nave said.

The new system will operate with seven towers around the county -- six of which already exist, he said. The county will have to build a tower in the Sykesville area, he said.

Existing towers are in Hampstead, Mayberry, Gorsuch Road in Westminster, Taylorsville, Louisville and on Penn Shop Road in Howard County, just outside Mount Airy.

The system will provide improved radio coverage throughout the coun

ty, Mr. Nave said. Currently, there are "dead spots" the low-band frequency cannot reach.

The new frequency penetrates buildings better than low-band frequencies, he said. But low-band frequencies penetrate foliage better than the 800 MHz system, he said.

"Every radio frequency has its advantages and its disadvantages," Mr. Nave said.

The 800 MHz system will allow the county to improve its ability to summon volunteer firefighters with pagers, Mr. Ludwig said. Now, the tones for pagers are transmitted only from the Gorsuch Road tower. The new system will allow tones to be transmitted from five towers, he said.

Volunteer firefighters are summoned by both sirens and pagers when an emergency call comes in through the 911 line. The county has 14 volunteer fire departments and each has a different tone.

Emergency personnel no longer will have to listen to interference from other jurisdictions -- some as far away as Florida -- with the new system, Mr. Ludwig said. Low-band frequencies are more susceptible to interference.

The county will pay for the system over an extended period, Mr. Nave said. Officials originally estimated the project could be done with five towers at a cost of $6 million. The two additional towers raised the price, he said.

The system is expected to handle the county's needs for about 30 years, he said. County officials had asked for 10 channels on the 800 MHz frequency, but the Federal Communications Commission approved nine. The extra channel probably will be needed in about 20 years, he said.

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