Typically, adding a communications site involves paying for studies and engineering to build a new one or a monthly agreement with whoever owns one and is willing to share.
An agreement with the state Bureau of Communications and Information Services has added a radio tower site to Warren County’s equipment at no additional cost to the state and essentially none to the county.
The tower site is situated above Rocky Ridge and Davey Hill roads in southern Pittsfield Township.
“It’s just in an ideal place,” Public Safety Director Ken McCorrison said. “It sees an area that’s different from what the majority of our towers see.”
The location is high on a hill with long views toward Tidioute, Youngsville, and Garland.
“It’s taller than any other tower that the county has in service,” McCorrison said. “This is the largest shelter of any we have in our arsenal.”
The site will act as a backup to the county’s Stilson Hill tower.
State equipment in place provides for off-site monitoring. “Door open, door closed, power – commercial or generator, temperature,” McCorrison said. If something is going on at the site, the county will know.
The state plans to continue to maintain the site, which includes the tower and two buildings – one of which the county will primarily use.
The price was right for the county.
It provided the equipment that it wanted on the tower – much of which it had on-hand – and that it needed at the site. And, it will pay for for fuel to heat and cool the shelter. “The cost to the county was antennas, microwave, and propane,” McCorrison said. “There is no exchange of money.”
That is unusual for towers. There is generally a monthly agreement associated with using a tower or putting one on someone’s land.
The agreement is likely to save the county money, as it finds the tower eliminates the need for other facilities and the costs associated with them.
“There is reoccurring cost with any other type of connectivity. This helps me walk away from some things and eliminate costs,” he said. “It’s going to be a cost savings.”
Even the installation of equipment in the shelter was handled in-house. “Kale (Asp, deputy director of 911) did all of the interior work,” McCorrison said.
“It was a state tower and the Pennsylvania Game Commission had assets there,” McCorrison said.
The county and the state are now using the same radio system. “They signed a use agreement with us that allows us to put our equipment at their tower site,” McCorrison said.
The county cannot activate emergency sirens and pagers via the new system.
“We keep our old medical assets up” to set off those pieces of equipment, he said. “This is old radio network. We can activate station sirens and the pagers that firefighters wear on their hips and communicate with ambulances coming into Warren General Hospital” from places that do not have the county radio equipment.
The tower will provide analog communications via microwave.
And, it is the only tower the county is using that has redundant connectivity. Most of the county sites have copper or fiber connectivity. The new site uses microwave in two directions. If the microwave going one way is out, it will automatically connect through the other.
“We started the conversation about this over a year ago,” McCorrison said. “They’ve been really good partners.” In addition to the new tower, “they were able to help us out with tower access when we lost of our towers in the tornado.”
McCorrison said the county will begin testing the new tower site’s capabilities within the month and it could be up and running within a few months. “There’s still some connectivity work that needs to be done,” he said.