Pa. Creating Public Safety Net

WASHINGTON (06/21/2000) - Pennsylvania is in the process of creating a US$222 million statewide public safety radio network, connecting about 25 agencies on an intranet-based system.

The radio network has been in the works for several years, after officials found that the current system was not reliable. After looking at options such as using cellular, officials determined that the most reliable system would be one they created themselves.

The state needs a system that enables state agencies - ranging from state police to the Department of Transportation, Attorney General and Department of Health - to communicate with each other across government-made boundaries, such as county lines.

"Operations don't really happen within one particular county all the time," said Donald Appleby, the project director of radio systems development in the Governor's Office of Administration.

"It always happens in regions that you can't define in advance," said Appleby, who spoke Tuesday at the GovTech conference in Washington, D.C.

The system is under construction. Towers and seven regional routers are being built. It is expected to be finished at the end of next year.

A pilot voice and data system is working in the Harrisburg area.

The finished system will use 250 towers sites, 180 of which are to be newly constructed and 400 cellular sites. The system will mostly use either microwave or a fiber-optic network to relay transmissions from site to site.

In instances when police officers need to leave their car and a mobile unit must be used, the radio will use the equipment in the car to connect it to the tower if the radio signal cannot reach the tower itself. Thus, the network is complete, despite being several miles from the car.

All the radios are software-based because they must hook up to the intranet.

And all transmissions are encrypted from start to finish.

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