Armstrong County Radio Project
In 2007, Armstrong County 911 became aware of pending FCC regulations that required all users of certain frequency spectrums to narrowband all transmissions by January 1st 2013. All police and EMS frequencies currently in use by Armstrong County for public safety are affected by this mandate. At that time, Armstrong County commissioned L.R. Kimball and Associates to evaluate and propose potential solutions to bring our radio equipment into FCC compliance. This study included an evaluation of all existing equipment, tower site facilities, interoperability, first responder needs, application of modern technologies, and future growth. The study was completed in January 2009 and detailed several options. The recommended option was to replace all legacy equipment with a new 800 MHz simulcast digital trunked P25 compliant radio system.
At about the same time, Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety offered the use of their 800 MHz master site "switch". This switch is the "brain" that controls the entire system. By joining with Westmoreland County, Armstrong County would save several million dollars and would also be able share multiple assets. At the same time, first responders would be able to talk with each other across county lines. Based on Kimball's recommendations, the Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of the 800 MHz system and sharing the Westmoreland master site. Since the Westmoreland master site was Motorola equipment, the county entered into negotiations with Motorola to purchase the necessary system infrastructure.
Over the next year, numerous meetings were held with all stakeholders. A select group of Fire, Police, and EMS Chiefs were selected to sit on a committee to assist the county in meeting the needs of the emergency responders. At one of the meetings held at the Westmoreland County DPS builiding, a question was raised about creating a name for the project. In just a few minutes, Rich Matason, (then Director of Westmoreland DPS) scribbled out Inter COunt Regional Radio System - ICORRS - on a piece of scratch paper. ICORRS was unamisously adopted and the project had a name.
Also during that time, Indiana County announced that they were interested in joining the proposed radio system. After several more meetings, Indiana County officially became a third partner in ICORRS.
In 2009, Motorola advised the ICORRS partners that the Westmoreland master site would need to be upgraded to the latest version if we were to recognize all the beneftis of the system. The proposed upgrade added a significant cost to the project.
In 2010, several meetings were held with the Region 13 Communications Committee to explore the option of Region 13 purchasing the master site as a regional switch. By doing this, not only would the three counties have access to the system; any Region 13 member would be able to use the switch if they chose to do so. After lenghty discusision, Region 13 did agree to purchase the master site upgrade, making ICORRS truly a regional project.
Also in 2010, the contract negotiations were completed with Motorola for our system. The contract was officially awarded to Motorola on December 22nd. Finally after several years of discussion and planning, a modern and robust radio system was looking like a reality.
One of the corollary projects needed to make a trunked simulcast repeated radio system function is some type of network connectiviity between all the tower sites. The county explored several options including microwave and a fiber optic network. Salsgiver, Inc, a local internet provider and public utility company proposed a fiber optic network that would not only connect all tower sites, but would also provide an incredibly high capacity, high speed broadband network through the county. As the proposed cost for this network was not that much more expensive than the originally planned microwave network, the county entered into a franchise agreement with Salsgiver, Inc to build this network. This network will not only provide almost unlimited capacity to county faciilities, it will also be a springboard for significant economic and industrial development throughout the county, and provide a cost effective high speed broadband alternative for the residents of Armstrong County.
2011 quickly turned into a very busy time for the Armstrong County DPS. A radio tower contractor was selected to build and/or upgrade necessary tower sites. Salsgiver began the process of permitting every necessary utility pole in the county that the fiber optic cable would be installed on. Preliminary and final designs of the radio system were worked and reworked several times. Governance agreements between the uses were finalized. At least three different conference calls occured every week with the team members.
Now here at the end of 2011, dreams and planning are actually turning into reality. During the first week of November, ICORRS participants traveled to Motorola Headquarters in Schaumber IL for staging. Staging is a process in which the entire system is built and functional in a warehouse environment for testing purposes. More than 140 specific tests were conducted and the system passed with flying colors. There is much more work to be done, but by October 2012, it is anticipated that the ICORRS radio network will be functional, operational, and in use for the emergency responders of Armstrong County.
UPDATED 7 MAY 2012....The master site at Westmoreland County DPS (the infamous switch) was cutover with success two weeks ago. Westmoreland is currenly running their radio network on the new switch. Armstrong County will be connecting into the master site sometime this fall. This is a huge milestone for all involved. Thanks to all those who made this cutover successful.....