Delaware County Addresses Emergency Communication Radio Issues

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Released: July 31, 2020

Over the past few weeks, First Responders in Delaware County have experienced emergency communication radio issues that are being caused by Troposphere Propagation, commonly referred to as ducting. The ducting prevents First Responders from communicating with the 911 Center. Police Departments from across the County have reported problems with radio communications during the month of July and there have also been reports of radio problems due to ducting over the past few years.

First Responders throughout the county and members of Delaware County Emergency Services have expressed concerns of the current radio system for several years, citing examples which have put first responders and the community in danger. The current Council began addressing these concerns immediately after being sworn into office.

In January, Council invited members of the public safety community and residents to attend a presentation on the findings of the "Delaware County Emergency Radio System Assessment and Conceptual Design" report. The VComm Telecommunications Engineering firm provided the results of their comprehensive evaluation of Delaware County’s emergency communications network and a framework to modernize the County’s public safety capabilities.

Following the presentation, Council voted to approve the purchase of a comprehensive emergency communications radio system and network infrastructure. The installation and implementation of the new system is expected to take approximately three years.

In order to address the immediate and critical need to allow First Responders to communicate, the County is piloting a cellular extension of its Land Mobile Radio System that will operate outside of the T-Band ducting area. While ducting can also occur in the cellular spectrum, we do not believe that it is as pronounced as it is in the T-band spectrum. The immediate response plan has been put into place to ensure the safety of all First Responders and the community.

“The safety of our First Responders and the public are our top priority,” said Delaware County Council Chairman Brian Zidek. “We are doing everything we can to address the safety concerns that the current systems presents.”

The County is aggressively pursuing a new radio system and is meeting this week with potential project engineers to define their scope of work. The new radio system will move emergency communications out of frequency bands that are shared with digital television stations. The system will also add security features that prevent unauthorized use of the system and provide advanced safety features. The new system will also replace legacy equipment that has reached end of life and no longer meets the growing demand of first responders.

As the County awaits the completion of the new upgraded system:

The County is requesting that the FCC investigate the dramatic interference occurring on County licensed radio frequencies.

The County is requesting that all authorized agencies submit proof of certification of effectiveness of their portable and mobile radios equipment.

The County is studying the operational condition and appropriateness of its current radio infrastructure antennas and receivers to confirm reception capabilities and if possible, reduce ducting interference.

Specific to fire communications, the County is encouraging the use of simplex channels for incidents. Delaware County Emergency Services is working with the Fire Chief’s Association to encourage a dedicated member to monitor a specific fire-ground channel allowing for the Incident Commander to remain on the primary fire channel. A meeting with the County Fire Chief’s is planned to discuss operation changes.

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Delaware County, presently consisting of over 184 square miles divided into forty-nine municipalities is the oldest settled section of Pennsylvania.

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