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Essex County's Emergency  Operations Center in the town of Lewis.  The new communication system will provide for modern two-way radio linkages, as well as microwave and high speed data lines. Photo courtesy Essex County
Essex County's Emergency Operations Center in the town of Lewis. The new communication system will provide for modern two-way radio linkages, as well as microwave and high speed data lines. Photo courtesy Essex County

APA approves new emergency communications system

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The Adirondack Park Agency approved a new $16 million emergency communication system that will link first responders over a huge swath of the central and eastern Adirondacks.

APA commissioners voted unanimously to green light the project, which will mean improved communication for police, fire, and ambulance squads from Tupper Lake to Johnsburg to Elizabethtown.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Asked to describe the first responder communication system in Essex County, and much of the Adirondacks, emergency services coordinator Don Jaquish described a network that was designed in the 1950s.

There's interference from local phone networks and in some mountain areas, there's no coverage at all: "You're getting a constant static, so we had to increase the squelch level on all our transmitters, and when you do that, that lessens the range," Jaquish explained, pointing out the forty percent of Essex County has no coverage at all.

It's no good when ambulance, police and fire crews can't talk back to their dispatchers.

So in 2008, Essex County began spearheading a partnership with the New York State Police and New York State Electric and Gas to build a massive new emergency communications network.

The scale of the project is enormous, with towers and other infrastructure from Moriah to Indian Lake to Tupper Lake and the town of Peru.

"The hard work went to the technical staff and the project team," said Charles White, a spokesman for New York State Police.

"How do we make sure the Essex County folks, the fire and EMS, have enough for the 911 systems and State Police for our law enforcement needs?"

White said it was also essential that the new system be reliable during storms and weather emergencies.

Given the scale of the project, and the fact that it involves dozens of towers positioned on mountain summit, it's remarkable that this project received no public comments – and no opposition from environmental groups.

Diane Fish, acting director of the Adirondack Council, said the technical team did a good job avoiding visual of environmental impacts.

In almost every case, transmission equipment will go on existing towers or structures – or on towers that will be mostly invisible.

"They worked really hard for years making sure the sites were improved, the existing sites will be less cluttered with towers, some of the towers will be shorter," Fish noted.

Several of the tower projects will be in mountain areas that are believed to be prime habitat for Bicknell's Thrush, a bird that the Federal government is considering for endangered species status.

APA project analyst Leigh Walrath acknowledged during Thursday's presentation that that was a concern.

"The species is at risk from a variety of threats, including recreation development and telecommunications construction," he said.

Walrath says construction and other human activity around those tower sites will be managed so as to minimize impact on birds.

Now that this project has APA approval, Charles White with New York state police says the new communications system could be up and running as soon as next fall.

"I would hope to have the system up if all goes well by fall," he said.

In addition to radio linkages, the new system will also include microwave network and high speed data lines for emergency responders and other government agencies.

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